Ask Alicia – Drive-in Movie Theatres

Dear Alicia,

The good weather is finally here! One of my favourite things to do in the summer is go to the drive-in movie theatre.  I wish we had one in St. Catharines. Was there ever a drive-in movie theatre in St. Catharines?

Thanks,

Just Wondering


Dear J.W.,

I agree, there is no better way to watch a movie than under the stars. Back in the good old days, St. Catharines was lucky enough to be home to not one, but two drive-in movie theatres.

The first drive-in movie theatre in St. Catharines was called “The Canadian” which opened on July 17th, 1947 and was the 5th drive-in in Canada.  It was owned by Michael Zahorchak’s Company; Canadian Drive-in Theatres Ltd.  The Canadian was located on Glenridge Avenue at the top of the escarpment where the Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre and the new Brock University residences currently stand. The Canadian held 750 cars and the cost to attend a film was 50¢ per adult and children 12 and under were free.

T2012-38-9
The Canadian” drive-in movie theatre.  Photo attribution: St. Catharines Museum

 

In 1952 Canadian Drive-in Theatres Ltd. opened a second facility at the end of Geneva Street overlooking Lake Ontario. It was called “The Lakeshore”.  Many children will remember enjoying the swings at the playground that sat directly below the screen while they waited for show time.

drive in_06142016.2
Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum – Ref. File – Drive-in movie theatres

 

Back when The Canadian and The Lakeshore were still around, movie goers did not have the luxury of tuning into a radio station and listening to the movie through their car stereo, as we do today.  A small metal box speaker was attached to the inside of the driver’s window and drivers were reminded at the end of the show not to drive away dragging the speaker wires behind them.

Unfortunately, The Canadian closed in 1982 and The Lakeshore closed in 1978. By 1981 the area where The Lakeshore was located was being developed into what is now Evangelista Court.

1-lakeshore drive in demo sept 26 1978 S1978-9-26
The Lakeshore Demo.  St. Catharines Standard Collection, StCM S1948.9.26

 

But, all is not lost. For those of you who are as nostalgic as I am, the Can-View Drive-In in Fonthill still shows the whimsical cartoon of popcorn, hotdogs and ice cream dancing to music, counting down the minutes until show time.  The animated classic had been shown at both St. Catharines drive-ins for decades.  I must admit, this is my favourite part of the showing, no matter what film I am there to see.

Michael Zahorchak went on to purchase Odeon Holding Company and formed the Canadian Odeon Theatres chain, which at its height boasted 178 theatres in total.  Two years after Zahorchak’s death, Cineplex bought Odeon and formed, Cineplex Odeon, one of North America’s largest theatre companies.

Who knows, maybe one day St. Catharines will get another drive-in movie theatre, but for now you can always check out the “Moonlight Flicks” series being held at Lakeside Park this summer!

For more questions on anything and everything St. Catharines, email Alicia at afloyd@stcatharines.ca

One comment

  1. Alicia I enjoyed both drive-ins as a child, such good memories. The most fun for me was the fact that we’d have our bath, Mom would put us in our jammies, all the kids playing on those swings would be wearing their flannel jammies knowing they would fall asleep halfway before the movie finished. Thanks so much for bringing back a favourite childhood memory.

    Liked by 1 person

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