Thursday, Mar 08, 2018 06:00 am
What was supposed to be a dream wedding set against the backdrop of snowcapped mountains at Lake Louise has turned into a financial nightmare for Mélanie DesAutels and her fiancé Vincent Benoit – and they’re not alone.
The Quebec couple is among at least two other couples the Outlook spoke with who spent thousands of dollars after booking with a local wedding company called Sweet Occasions Inc., which was rebranded Beginnings by Design.
“It’s very, very stressful,” said DesAutels, who paid more than $9,000 to Sweet Occasions, but ended up rebooking her entire wedding two months before the big day.
“It’s supposed to be the best day of your life and it’s turned into a nightmare.”
Her unhappiness with the company is shared by two other brides who also paid thousands of dollars to the same company they say failed to provide adequate assurance to them that it would live up to its contractual obligations.
Christina Allard, of Bethune, Sask., who was married last August at Two Jack Lake, allegedly lost $3,000 after booking her wedding with Beginnings by Design a year earlier.
“It’s not OK what she did to me or other people,” said Allard, alleging the company never provided her with answers or satisfactory assurances that it would deliver the services it promised.
“She didn’t pay for my photographer, she didn’t pay for my commissioner, she didn’t pay for nothing, besides just the flowers.”
Shantel Ambrose, another unhappy bride, allegedly lost her $1,500 deposit to Sweet Occasions after she got cold feet over miscommunications about her intended wedding date at Emerald Lake Lodge.
“I’m one of the ones who lost the least amount of money,” said Ambrose, who lives in Moose Jaw, Sask. “I felt like a fool.”
In each instance, the bride paid the company to plan their wedding in the Bow Valley; however, as their wedding day approached, communications began to break down, leading the brides to question whether venues, hotels and vendors allegedly booked for each wedding had been properly booked, or would be paid.
According to DesAutels, the couple signed a contract with Sweet Occasions on Dec. 1, 2016, more than a year before their wedding. The contract was signed by Mia Angela, who also goes by the name Mia Shark.
Emails obtained by the Outlook also confirm she has used the name Angela Schrempf, as well as the name Mia Angela Hyatt to plan weddings as director of Sweet Occasions.
The Outlook tried to contact Mia Shark, but was unable to independently verify any of these identities. However, several sources confirmed Mia Shark’s real name is Angela Schrempf.
“I’ve followed her on Facebook for years,” said Deborah Nyack, a well established harpist and owner of Harp Angel in Canmore.
According to Nyack, she met Schrempf 10 years ago and has watched her interact online with family members with the same last name for years.
Danielle Demasson, owner of Something New Banff, worked for Schrempf in 2012 as a wedding planner for Sweet Occasions.
“Her real, true, original name is Angela Schrempf,” said Demasson, who worked for Sweet Occasions for about a year before going on maternity leave.
During her time working for Sweet Occasions, she said Schrempf would sell couples all-inclusive packages, but, as the planning process progressed, couples would often be told they would have to upgrade their package and pay more money for things they thought were already included.
“Their budgets would end up being thousands of dollars more than what they were told it was going to be,” recalled Demasson.
According to Demasson, Schrempf would tell couples who balked at paying more that if they cancelled their contract they would lose a portion or all of their money.
“They were trapped,” said Demasson. “By then they would have put thousands of dollars down and she would just keep it all if they tried to back out.”
She described Schrempf as a charismatic and charming person with a knack of convincing people to plan their wedding with her.
“Angela’s greatest gift is her ability to sell herself. If you were first meeting her, you would just think she’s the greatest businesswoman and so fantastic in just a few minutes,” said Demasson.
According to DesAutel’s wedding contract, they paid Sweet Occasions to hire a local wedding commissioner as well as a photographer for their wedding on Jan. 19, 2018. The contract also included payment for flowers, hair and makeup and a seven-night stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Over the next four months the couple made four payments for a total of $9,122, however, two months prior to their wedding, they wanted confirmation that Sweet Ocassions had booked and paid their chosen vendors.
“Back in February 2017 she told me everything was booked, everything was ready and all I had to do was show up, so I was relatively stress free at that time, but then the red flags started coming,” said DesAutels, explaining emails she sent in the final months leading up to her wedding would go answered for weeks at a time.
Concerned by the lack of communication, she began to contact vendors in late November that had allegedly been booked for her wedding day. None of the vendors she contacted reduced her stress.
In the case of the hotel, DesAutels was told by the hotel that the room had been reserved with an expired credit card. After voicing her concerns in several conversations with Mia Angela, as well as a woman named Joanne Rodriguez, a $691 deposit was paid to book the room, but the remaining balance of $2,849 was never paid.
James Fraser, regional marketing manager for Fairmont, declined to comment on the matter.
In a response to DesAutel’s original complaint posted on www.weddingwire.ca, Sweet Occasions claimed it booked her accommodations and sent her the corresponding receipt. The company also claimed DesAutels called the Chateau continuously, which resulted in the credit card being charged three times before it was declined.
DesAutels categorically rejected those claims, adding she had to rebook her accommodations at the Chateau and pay the remaining balance.
According to DesAutels, during the course of planning her wedding, her wedding planner changed four times and included women named Melissa Casey, Joanne Rodriguez, Natalia and another woman named Melissa, both of whom didn’t provide their last names.
Growing increasingly concerned about the fate of her wedding, DesAutels filed a police complaint about Sweet Occasions on Nov. 25, 2017 in her hometown of Sherbrooke, Que., but was told at the time it was a civil matter.
Frustrated, she asked Sweet Occasions for a refund, but was instead sent a cancellation agreement on Nov. 27, 2017, leaving the couple on the hook for the full cost of their wedding because she asked for a refund less than 90 days before the date of their wedding.
“I lost my job over this because I couldn’t focus on anything at work,” said DesAutels, who refused to sign the cancellation agreement.
“On top of this we had to shell out another $10,000 to plan this wedding because obviously all of our family and all of our guests had already purchased their plane tickets and their accommodation at Lake Louise and in Banff, so it’s not like we could change the wedding.”
Canmore RCMP Sgt. Stan Andronyk confirmed on Feb. 14 that the RCMP is aware of DesAutel’s allegations and said a file has been opened.
“We’re looking into her allegations,” said Andronyk, who declined to provide further details about the matter.
Speaking generally, he said: “We would encourage anyone who has been the victim of any crime, or the victim of any offense, to come forward and bring that to our attention.”
One of the vendors who DesAtulels thought had been booked for her wedding was Michael Buckley, owner of Photoflow in Canmore, who stopped working for Mia Angela and Sweet Occasions last summer.
“I have worked with her in the past when she was known as Angela and then again as Mia,” said Buckley, who was photographed with Angela Schrempf in 2011 before she changed her name to Mia Angela.
He said she also introduced herself as Mia Shark.
When pressed if he thought it was odd that she changed her name three times, he said he didn’t ask questions.
“People change their names for whatever reason, right?” said Buckley, who shot upwards of 10 weddings a year for her over the course of two to three years.
“Our relationship was pretty good. She paid on time and everything was alright and then last summer I decided to call it quits just because our business models didn’t jive, I guess, for lack of a better way of putting it.”
He said a big reason he decided to stop working for her was because she didn’t live in the Bow Valley anymore and she didn’t attend the weddings she was organizing, leaving a lot of the logistics up to the vendors to organize.
“I think a big part of being a wedding planner is that you have to be there the day of the wedding, so basically what I found was that I was stepping into the planning role on the wedding day.”
During this time, he said the company also switched names from Sweet Occasions to Beginnings by Design.
The url for the Banff website was no longer available as of press time, however, a women named Ashley, who did not provide her last name when asked, confirmed she recently bought the company from Mia Angela.
A Facebook post published on Jan. 10 by Mia Angela on a page called Wedding Co Banff indicates Ashley’s last name is Buckley.
“I am pleased to welcome to (sic) Ashley Buckley, the new owner of the Banff Wedding Empire! After 10 years of having the privilege of planning weddings in the Bow Valley, it is the time I hang up my wedding shoes and pursue my dream of changing the wedding industry with my innovative software,” wrote Mia Angela, in reference to a new event software company she allegedly founded called EVENT2.
Michael Buckley said that he has no connection with Ashley Buckley.
According to an email from Ashley, Mia Angela is no longer associated with her business and no longer plans weddings in the Bow Valley.
“I did purchase her old Facebooks and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) ranking from her last year as she is no longer planning weddings in the valley, however, my business is a separate business,” wrote Ashley in an email.
She described Mia Angela as a “wonderful human” and a “respected” wedding planner.
“Mia is a respected celebrity wedding planner, public figure and is backed by several big-name celebrities which is partly why I purchased this from her.”
Deborah Nyack confirmed she had played four or five elopements a year for Mia Angela, but refused to work for her anymore after an outdoor wedding that she was supposed to play at in September 2013 got was rained out and there was no backup venue booked.
Nyack and Michael Buckley aren’t the only vendors who have stopped working for Sweet Occasions and Weddings by Design.
Pam Barrett, a local wedding commissioner, and Derek Bisbing, owner of Huge Photography, have also stopped working for her.
“Most wedding planners meet you, but there was always a reason why she didn’t meet you,” said Barrett, who is still owed $325 for officiating Allard’s wedding.
“Things just didn’t seem right to me and it was obvious compared to other wedding planners that she wasn’t doing anything the way they did.”
Mia Shark’s lawyer confirmed the wedding commissioner is indeed owed $325, however, according to her lawyer, the wedding contract stated the bride and groom were supposed to pay Barrett directly.
“Of course I want the money, but my concern was and is still the reputation for the whole industry,” said Barrett.
“We’re dealing with national, if not international, people. People are trusting, so if you get someone like this it can cause a lot of problems for the whole industry.”
Bisbing said he stopped working for Mia Angela last fall and no longer shoots weddings.
“I got a decent amount of bookings from her, but there were lots of confusing emails and her own concerns about her image set off my alarm bells,” said Bisbing, who shot over two dozen elopements for her over two seasons.
“Once I figured out how bad things were with people, the reason I didn’t just walk away was because I wanted to do as much as I could to make it at least a decent day for them and take some good photos.”
While several vendors the Outlook spoke with voiced concerns about working for Mia Angela, Paul Dupuis, owner of Black and White Weddings, said his experience working with her was “relatively positive.”
“Mia doesn’t owe us any money. We were always paid on time,” wrote Dupuis, adding he has shot over 20 elopements for Mia Angela.
The last time he worked for her was in September.
Reflecting on the entire ordeal, Allard warned future couples who are considering getting married to do their due diligence before booking their wedding.
“Do your research,” said Allard, who has since needed to take anti-depressant medication because of the stress caused by the ordeal.
“Trust your instincts. If you see red flags, pay attention to them.”