Lambton Heritage Museum
Grand Bend, Ontario

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Grand Bend - Our Stories, Our Voice




Emerson Desjardine said he got the idea of putting up a drive in theatre after wintering in Florida where they were common. He considered three sites before he finally settled on his location near Shipka in 1955. He said he liked the Shipka location because it was central. He was able to attract people from both Grand Bend and Exeter. The first movie he showed was Calamity Jane starring Doris Day and Howard Keel. To celebrate the 25th anniversary The Muppet Movie was shown.

Desjardine said that his drive-in had some unique features. The screen, 40 feet by 60 feet wide, sitting 16 feet off the ground, is made of plaster. He said many other outdoor screens are plywood, and cracks show. The size accommodated cinemascope movies. Cinemascope was later replaced by flat scope, which now fills the whole screen size.

The projection booth and snack bar are located at the rear of the theatre, so that the view is not obstructed. Also the parking area is maximized in this way.

The main problem in operating a drive-in is the damage and theft of speakers. Desjardine said that about three dozen of his speakers were stolen or broken each summer. Sometimes people drove away with the speaker attached to their car and ripped the cord off. But often the cord had been cut and the speaker stolen. If it had been a careless mistake, farmers would find the speakers lying in the fields where they had been tossed from a car. This sound system was later replaced by a wire on a post which transmitted the sound through the car's antenna to the radio.

One feature of the Starlite was the windshield washer. Desjardine said that young local boys were on hand to wash car windows. If his window boy took a night off, people would ask for him.

Desjardine remembered Old Yeller as the first really popular movie he showed. That was the first time he ever ran a movie for an entire week, and he had a full house each time. People would wait through the first showing to be first in line for the second show. Others include Mary Poppins, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Star Wars.

Desjardine looked after the maintenance of the parking area himself. He kept a tractor parked in the bottom of the screen to grade and fix up the parking ramps.

Another problem at the drive-in was littering. Desjardine said he didn't mind if people just threw out the paper containers from things they purchased in his booth, but he said that they'd clean out their whole car while waiting for the show to start.

In 2009 the Starlite Drive In continues to attract movie goers, all summer long. The owner Allan Barnes has a long history in operating drive-ins and a passion for showing movies under the stars.


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