Whatever happened to …

… outdoor drive-in movie theatres?

Thanks to Sheila Stewart for suggesting this.  It sure brought back memories for me.

Where I grew up, there was an indoor movie theatre in town.  You could tell just from the design of the building.  When I was there though, it had closed and was the home of the local newspaper.  In our “If you grew up in Clinton” Facebook group, there allegedly was another indoor theatre in town but that was way, way before my time.

For our family, it was a regular visit to Brownie’s Movie Theatre.

Sadly though …


But I do remember this!


Thanks, Cinema Treasures, CC

A complete list of images including the pay booth that I do recall is available at this page.

When we’d go to movies, it was either on a Friday or Saturday night.  Typically, there would be a double bill – a Disney movie first and then an adult movie following.  My brother and I would be allowed to watch the first movie but then had to lie down and sleep through the second.  In theory, anyway.  I remember peeking a bit; my mother loved Agatha Christie stories turned into movies and I think that’s where I got a love for “Murder on the Orient Express”.

And between movies, who could forget advertising like this!

Parking was always a big task.  We wanted to be near the refreshment building/washrooms – not too far back and not too close, you didn’t want to be on an angle to the big screen, and then there was the back and forth to make sure that we had the perfect viewing angle.

I also remember Dad having to go into the washroom before the first show to get wet paper towels and clean off the bugs from the front windshield before the show started.  And, also the great mono speaker thingy that hung in the window for audio.  I always got a kick from the informative movie clip that reminded you there was no penalty for turning it in should you pull away before hanging it back up and rip the cord from the stand.  Our theatre was family friendly and there was a playground down front where we could go and play before the cartoon shown before the first attraction.

A friend that I had in high school got a job as a projectionist.  It was so impressive to see how movies were played with the big reels and all the skill that it took to put it all together.

There used to be theatres like this everywhere.  If there was nothing playing in Clinton we liked, we could drive to the one in Goderich or if it was something that we really wanted to see, to Grand Bend.  I don’t know that I ever realized that movies could be seen indoors until I went on a high school field trip once to London!  With the move to Essex County, there was an outdoor theatre in Windsor but we never went.  I understand they didn’t use the speakers you hang on the window but rather broadcast through your car’s FM radio.  Hey, stereo movies!  What a concept.

Sadly, Brownie’s is no longer there as are most outdoor theatres throughout the province.  Periodically, around here, you’ll see a community group show an outdoor movie projected on the side of the building or you can rent big blowup screens.

Outdoor theatres are not gone completely – here’s a list from a website devoted to Drive-in Movies Theatres of ones they document as still functioning in the province.  I know that I have readers from throughout the province…are they still active?

For a Sunday, how about sharing some thoughts.

  • Have you ever gone to an outdoor drive-in movie theatre?  Do you have any remembrances of the experience?
  • Do you enjoy the current experience in indoor movie theatres – the surround sound, vibrating chairs, the lounges, …?
  • Do people talking in theatres drive you as crazy as they do me?
  • Can you remember the advertising from outdoor movie theatres when it was about upcoming shows and not the same commercials that you see on television?
  • Could there be anything, anywhere as tasty as movie theatre popcorn?  Of course it’s good for you – get past the salt, the butter, the flavouring and you’ll find fibre.
  • Did you ever sneak into an outdoor drive-in movie theatre by going around the fence or in the trunk of a car?

Please share some of your thoughts via reply below.  I’d love to read about your memories.

This post is part of a regular Sunday series and you can read any of them here.  If you have a topic that would bring back memories, please let me know in a Padlet that I’ve designed just for this purpose.  Thanks, Sheila, for today’s inspiration.


8 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. I worked at the Mustang Drive In Theatre in London for a lot of years, as did both my sisters. We would come home smelling like movie popcorn. That smell, despite washing, never quite came out of your clothes. Saw a lot of movies there too. In fact my mom took my sister and I too see our first man vie there: Bambi! It is still there, just a few minutes off the 401, at Westchester Bourne and Wilton Grove Rd, east of London. It still runs 7 days a week from Spring till the snow flies. On lots of weekends they still have “ all nighters”. 3 movies….These days I can barely stay awake thru 1, but it used to be fun to stay up all night (working or watching) and come home almost at the break of dawn, bleary eyed and ready for bed. It’s also a treat to sit in your own vehicle and watch, although with the easy chair movie theatres they have now, maybe not as comfortable?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never been to a drive-in theatre before, but always wanted to go to one. Regular movie theatres always make me feel sick because of the intense smell of the popcorn. I wondered if an outdoor theatre would be better. I know that the Starlite Drive-In in Stoney Creek still exists, so maybe one day I’ll make it there. It’s not too far away from me. Thanks again for these weekly trips down memory lane!


    Liked by 2 people

  3. P.S, I do have to add that I read this fantastic Linwood Barclay trilogy that started with murders at a drive-in, and now I might be a little scared of a falling movie screen. Maybe I should have made it to the drive-in before reading this trilogy. 🙂


    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for the historical reference there, Ramona. I’ve driven by the Mustang Drive-in in London but have never been inside. Now you’re going to drive me crazy all day today to try to remember why I was going by there. Perhaps to head to St. Thomas?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You don’t know what you’re missing, Aviva! I think you should make a point of going to Stoney Creek and checking it out. Parking is relatively easy….

    Liked by 2 people

  6. There used to be a drive in movie theatre in Leamington that we would go to – much like you described with the playground at the front and the snack bar. I think the first movie I ever saw there was 101 Dalmatians. I also remember the drive in just outside of Windsor. It had four movie screens and whenever we happened to be driving by on our way into the city, we would slow down to see what was playing. I took my kids to the drive in near Wasaga Beach about 12 years ago. I wonder if it’s still open?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for covering this topic, Doug! I had a good look around the information in the links you provided. I can’t find anything online about the drive-in theatre & restaurant that was within walking distance of my childhood home in the Kenora area back in the 70s. I will have to find out what year it closed. The area is now a subdivision. It was such a big part of my growing up – the site also had miniature golf, an arcade (for a few years), and all the candy and treats we could ever want during the summer days. Eventually I worked there for a few summers in a row. My shifts were mostly during supper time and/or movie time. A friend my age got trained in the running the movie projector too. I worked in food prep and service though – burgers, foot long hotdogs, onion rings, ice-cream, milkshakes, popcorn… we had it all there! We even sold those green coiled burner things to light in the car to deter the mosquitoes!

    It seems we have had some similar childhood experiences. I recall a family night as well and the expectation for my siblings and I to sleep in the back of the station wagon after the first show. We even had our PJs on!

    Working there as a young teen was fun most of the time. We always heard the reports about how many were caught in the trunks of cars. I recall the ticket booth being similar to the one in the photos you shared. And there were always speakers to repair and reattach haha. I have so many memories at this “hub” in the summertime right in our neighbourhood!

    Nice to know there are still some in operation. I never realized that some had more than one screen. I see there used to be one in Thunder Bay before my time here. The city does put up a screen for movie nights at the marina park in the summer now and people can sit on the ground or bring lawn chairs (it can be a bit cool beside Lake Superior at times!). The next closest “drive-in” one to me is in Morden, Manitoba. I found this article about how it was saved:

    I also found their FB page with seems to indicate they are still running fine. But I think there is something about going to one in one’s own community.

    I seldom go to indoor theatres now. It is just too convenient to watch movies at home now. How things have changed when I think about my Dad’s parents running the only (of course) indoor (of course) theatre in Churchill, MB back in the ’50s!

    Thanks for helping with this “trip down..”, Doug!

    Liked by 2 people

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