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Is the drive-in movie theatre at risk of going dark?


As another season of summer rounds the corner into view, drive-in movie theatres across Canada are coming back to life.

Located on the edge of Pembroke, Ont., the Skylight Drive-In opened for the season over the Victoria Day long weekend.

While new showings of IF and Aquaman are the films lighting up the big screen this weekend, owner Kevin Marshall says it is the feeling of nostalgia that continues to bring movie enthusiasts back to the drive-in.

"Our biggest week was Jaws with Jurassic Park," Marshall said.

"People were just blown away by that because everybody's seen Jaws on TV, but nobody had ever seen Jaws on the big screen. It came out in 1972."

The Skylight has room for 300 vehicles per showing, but on a good weekend, only about 100 pull up to watch a movie.

There is a fear that if interest in drive-in theatres falls, they will cease to exist entirely. The only other drive-in located in the National Capital Region can be found in Port Elmsley, just west of Smiths Falls.

"It is entirely possible that the numbers will actually drop to a point where it's just no longer feasible to stay open," Marshall admits.

"And be perfectly honest, if a big developer came by and offered me enough money, I would go at this point."

There are no offers currently for the Skylight, which has been open since 1954, and Marshall says he still loves the movie business. But at the same time, no new drive-in theatres are opening anytime soon.

"They are built on a large chunk of land, and they're usually built fairly close to a major city. So therefore, the property prices get to the point where it's just not sustainable to have a big open space anymore, and you want to put a giant big box store on it instead."

Living 25 minutes from the Skylight Drive-In, Beachburg resident Chris Raby says he tries to bring his family of four to the drive-in at least once a month.

"It's pure experience,"Raby said.

"The big screen is fun to watch at night and everybody gets to stay up late."

He says while his young kids may fall asleep and not make it to the second showing of the night sometimes, the family outing is more than just a movie.

"Typically we come with neighbors and friends, and we'll try and park in a row. And so the kids can all play and the parents can sit out on lawn chairs and hang out and chat."

But at $25 a carload and with limited options for viewing movies in the Ottawa Valley, the thought of losing their local drive-in is one that worries Raby.

"It's sad to lose more and more over the years and it becomes more and more expensive for families to go and visit the bigger movie theaters," Raby said.

With the cost of land more valuable than the business itself, Marshall says the two remaining drive-ins in eastern Ontario are an endangered species.

"Once they go, they're gone." Top Stories

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