Shining Stars - Canada's Drive-In Movie Theatres

divider line before thumbnails Journal - Grand Bend, Pefferlaw, Lindsay - Ontario

Cameraman Mike Strange, soundman Dave Ferris and me began on our journey on August 8, 2003. It would take us to many locations across Canada as we searched for the reasons behind the continued popularity of our nation's drive-in movie theatres. We wanted to pick up some stories from the past, as well.

This is our record of that journey.

Grand Bend

Our first stop was in Grand Bend, Ontario at the Starlite Drive-In. (The drive-in is actually in Shipka, about ten minutes away. Most people seem to know where Grand Bend is so the owner advertises that the drive-in is located here.) Owner Allan Barnes has been operating this property since the early 1990s. He's optimistic about the future of "flicks in the sticks" but realizes operators will face competition from the indoor theatres and Mother Nature.

We also had the great good fortune of meeting Emerson Desjardine. Mr Desjardine built the Starlite Drive-In in 1951 and operated it for over 25 years. He had many fond recollections of his time at the helm. He recalled the days that theatres could not open on Sundays because the government considered it a day of rest. Always inventive, Mr Desjardine opened his property for church services.


Next we moved on to Pefferlaw, a small town near Sutton. The Huh family have owned the property for many years, and have only recently begun operating it themselves. Mr. Huh explained that it's a family business where everyone pitches in to help. His son comes every weekend when it gets busy, his daughter does the web site, and Mrs Huh keeps the property wonderfully maintained with lovely gardens.

Mr Huh greeted a first time drive-in goer when we were there. He told the guest that times have changed and that admission is now ten million dollars per person. After much laughter, Mr Huh told us that's why he enjoys this business - it's making people laugh. Even with his "broken English" as he calls it - although we understood him perfectly - he likes to make people happy.


Unfortunately, rain and the fading sun forced us to change plans. We couldn't make it to Peterborough's Mustang Drive-In but plan to visit another day. However, we were able to make it to Lindsay, and visit Larry Baxter at his Lindsay Drive-In. Larry graciously welcomed us despite our unannounced visit. In the business since the 1970s, Larry had many stories to share. Of course, there's the quintessential time that someone drove away with a speaker attached to a car. In this case, the patron took the care to remove the speaker from his car window but the cord got snagged on his bumper. After a bit of a chase, Larry managed to retrieve the speaker.

We then met Dana Marcks the projectionist. A film technician for most of his life, this was Dana's first season as a public projectionist, previously he worked for the film labs. The Lindsay Drive-In is a twin screen that sometimes shows three films a night. So, that's six films that he has to look over to make sure the night runs smoothly. A future for drive-ins? Dana says that business is great and is surprised at the high attendance coming from such a small town.

We think Larry summed up the future of drive-ins eloquently when he said, "As long as we have sunsets, we'll have drive-in movie theatres."

Our journey continues in P.E.I.

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