Wedding bell blues
North leads country in percentage of people living common-law

by Ian Elliot
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 27/97) - If you came North to get rich selling wedding dresses, boy, did you make a mistake.

In fact, wedding bells ring less often in the Northwest Territories than anywhere else in Canada, according to a Statistics Canada report released this month.

One long-time northerner attributes this statistic to a changing society in general and elements of the South creeping into the North's culture.

Retired Roman Catholic Bishop John Sperry, who worked in the North for more than 40 years, said the report's figures seemed to reflect how society as a whole is changing.

"There are more elements of the South coming into things these days," he said.

"The stability that we once had seems to have been replaced."

When you cross the 60th parallel, you can forget traditional families. The North has the highest percentage of people living common-law in Canada, the lowest percentage of legally married people, the highest percentage of single-parent families and the highest percentage of single men heading families.

The populous provinces have more people living in various arrangements, but on a per capita basis, no one else comes close.

The numbers were released as part of a large-scale snapshot on the state of families in Canada.

Common-law arrangements are becoming more common across the country but the North easily outstrips every other province as 27 per cent of the families here are living together unmarried, more than double the national average of 12 per cent.

Only 55.8 per cent of couples here are legally married, a total of 8,345, as opposed to a national average of 74 per cent.

A further 17 per cent of families in the North are headed by a single parent as opposed to 15 per cent across the country and of those Northern families, four per cent are headed by single males as opposed to 2.5 per cent nationally.

On the other side of the coin, if you don't yet have a non-traditional family you have a good chance of being able to make one because there are more single people in the territories than married people, by an edge of 21,000 versus 17,000.

"You've got to recognize that you are dealing with a smaller population, but yes, those are the numbers," acknowledged Peter Palfenier of Statistics Canada's Edmonton office.

One of the things that has changed is that arranged marriages are no longer as prevalent as they were in traditional culture, he noted, and that people are attaching less importance to the formal marriage ceremony, whether religious or civil.

One bridal store owner speculated that people in the North often live a transient life. Not only are they less likely to commit to a permanent marriage arrangement because they move so often, but family and friends often live in the South, meaning that they could not be part of any formal wedding ceremony.