Retro nostalgia brings back good times at Pembroke's Skylight Drive-In
Pembroke’s Skylight Drive-In, one of only three drive-in theatres in eastern Ontario, is ready for another season beginning this Friday night. Owners Kathy and Kevin Marshall, who also own the O’Brien Theatre in Arnprior, purchased the theatre in 2014, refitting it with state of the art digital picture and sound.
As progress pushes the world forward, a trend has emerged to look back. For many once popular activities, what goes around truly does come around again.
The drive-in movie theatre is a great example. In their heyday, almost every town had a drive-in where families gathered and young people enjoyed social outings. But the onset of a multi-media world eventually caused people to turn away from drive-ins and most disappeared.
Now a resurgence of retro thinking has brought the spotlight back to the drive-in. People of all ages are flocking to see first-run movies from the comfort of their vehicle. With the latest in digital projection equipment and high-tech audio that plays through car radios, the drive-in has more appeal than a regular theatre. People get the comfort and privacy of their own vehicle.
The number of drive-ins is on the rise in Ontario. There are now 24 theatres in Ontario, including in major markets like Toronto, London and Hamilton.
In the Ottawa Valley, Kathy and Kevin Marshall have kept the tradition alive at the Skylight Drive-In, at 199 Forest Lee Road, Pembroke. Originally built in the heyday of drive-in theatres in 1954, the land was severed off farmland owned by the McLaughlin family.
Despite setbacks and changes in entertainment habits, Matt McLaughlin continued to operate the drive-in until the Marshalls bought it in 2014.
"He actually sold it to me over the phone," Kevin recalls. "It was refitted and remodelled and opened July 1, 2014, all on a verbal agreement."
As owners of the O'Brien Theatre in Arnprior, Kevin and Kathy have over four decades of theatre operations experience. Kathy has been the general manager at the O'Brien Theatre-Renfrew since 1999, and they are both very enthusiastic drive-in theatre goers!
The first order of business was to install a new Christie 2230 digital projector along with the industry standard DoReMi server to get the largest and clearest picture in the Ottawa Valley.
The Skylight Drive-In is open Thursday to Sunday in the spring and fall, and seven nights a week in July and August. Many people come early to visit with friends while their children enjoy the kids' playground. The concession booth has also been upgraded with a fresh coat of paint and new appliances in the kitchen.
"They can make it a picnic with great food from our concession booth," says Kevin. "We are very proud of our poutine! The right combination of thick cut fries, fresh curd and delicious gravy, then relax and enjoy the movie in the comfort of your car on your sound system, with digital clarity in sound and picture.
"We are totally committed to providing great family entertainment for a decent price. From as low as $14 for adults and $6 for kids 6 and over, this is the cheapest entertainment around!"
As the drive-in's popularity continues to grow, the Marshalls are considering adding a second screen in years to come. They also use the lot for RV and boat storage in the winter months to help offset costs.
"We'll do all we can to run the best drive-in. With good weather, and community support, the Pembroke Skylight Drive-In should keep this 60-year-old tradition alive for a whole generation to enjoy."
Kevin suggests packing chairs or a blanket to sit on.
"You can watch the movie from the inside of your car but often it is more fun to sit outside of the vehicle. If your back seat pulls out, you can use that as well."
Bring a portable radio and extra batteries to avoid running down your car battery.
And don't forget to bring bug spray and/or mosquito coils.
Kevin suggests keeping your windshield fog-free by cleaning it beforehand and bringing some anti-fog spray used for hockey visors to wipe down the inside before the show starts.
The drive-in theatre is one of only three in Eastern Ontario, and the only one in Renfrew County.
"People love the nostalgic experience of going to the drive in. And the picture and sound quality rival any theatre," Kevin says.