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The end of the show – Is the Elmvale Drive-In an image of the past?

August 2020

The giant movie screen stands silent, white panels falling off the steel truss frame; a white monolith and monument to an industry that has seen many ups and downs over the past century.

While some drive-inn theatres have survived to this day, the screen at the Elmvale Drive-in no longer displays the moving images from the movie projector that was shut off for the last time almost a decade ago.

The first official drive-in movie theatre opened on 6 June 1933, in New Jersey, run by Richard Hollingshead.

In its heyday during the 1950s and 1960s, there were more than 4,000 theatres across Canada and the United States, but now just 37 drive-inn theatres are still operating in Canada, with 16 of them in Ontario.

We are currently in an age of many options for consuming movies, many of which don’t require the viewer to even leave their home; a home that may have a better viewing and sound system than many movie major theatres, including drive-ins, just on a smaller scale. Many have pronounced that the drive-in theatres are a dying business, one that is a seasonal business in Canada and many American states (no one wants to go to the drive-in during the winter months).

While drive-in theatres are definitely not as popular as they once were, many continue to draw large crowds during the summer, especially on long weekends, when viewers can watch movies from dusk until dawn. Sadly, the Elmvale Drive-in isn’t one of them anymore.

The drive-in was operated by Sam and Joanne Russ from 1960 until it closed in 2012. Originally the Elmvale Drive-in was showing films seven days a week, with upwards of 1500 people in 500 cars in attendance. Sometimes Sam and Joanne had to turn cars away.

By 2012, it was only open on weekends and half-price Tuesdays, when a good night would see, on average, 350 people in attendance, a trend that had been happening for several years.

Changing times and changing technology helped spell the end of many of the old drive-ins like the Elmvale Drive-in. The switch by film distributors to digital film projection from the old celluloid projectors, presented a very costly problem for Sam and Joanne. Already faced with declining revenues that at times didn’t even cover their operating expenses, the cost of buying a digital projector was too much for Sam and Joanne to justify.

A love of movies and the drive-in experience was what kept Sam and Joanne in business as long as did, but after the 2012 season, the projector was shut off for the last time.

The field in front of the deteriorating screen where the cars would park is overgrown and eerily silent, as is the concession stand and projection building, heaving damaged by vandals and exposure to the elements.

Sources: https://www.simcoe.com/news-story/2021360-sun-sets-on-elmvale-drive-in, https://www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/the-history-of-drive-in-movie-theaters-and-where-they-are-now, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/drive-in-movies-were-a-summertime-ritual/article601183/, https://www.driveinmovie.com/Canada/Ontario.

Cinedrive 48 DRIVE-IN movie theatre (Georgina, Ontario)

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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