Drive-in theatres in the Summer of COVID-19

Published: June 12, 2020

drive-in Courtesy Dawn Laing & Drew Downs/Mustang Drive-in

In this summer of COVID-19, cottagers can still pack the kids in their jammies and head to the drive-in theatre to catch Trolls 2 or E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Ontario drive-in theatres were allowed to open on May 31. Since then, cottage-country theatres have joined their more suburban counterparts, with some theatres already open, while others plan to open soon.

The Mustang Drive-in in Prince Edward County is planning to open on the Canada Day weekend. As luck would have it, the former owners sold to Dawn Laing and Drew Downs in time for their first summer behind the projector to include COVID.

“We wanted a business we could run as a couple, something timeless and retro that could bring something to a community, and to still be involved with the arts,” says Laing, who notes her former work in Toronto included masterminding creative events. “We didn’t know a pandemic was going to happen, but now there’s a strong sense of duty toward people in Prince Edward County, and also cottagers and vacationers, who come for an escape from their ordinary lives.”

Yearning for a trip to the movies under the stars? See this online listing of Ontario drive-in theatres for options.

The provincial government’s rules for drive-ins are changing quickly, plus every theatre will set their own guidelines a little differently, so check ahead of time: is it cash as usual, or have the owners moved to online ticket sales? Pets allowed? No tents? For example, the Muskoka Drive-In is operating in Gravenhurst, although it isn’t supplying the usual extras like bug spray and portable radios, and the playground and mini-golf are closed.

What seems to be a universal policy for summer 2020 is to space vehicles apart: the Mustang Drive-in used to accommodate 360 cars but may max out at 200 cars. Family members must stay in the vehicle—except for bathroom trips, where sanitation is stepped up and the number of people in each bathroom is limited. As the Laing-Downs family notes, if moviegoers violate social distancing rules, it’s the beleaguered drive-in theatre operator who has to pay the fines, at a time when social distancing rules have cut into the profit from snack bars or canteens (as of publication time, food delivery to vehicles might be permitted).

Theatres like the Mustang Drive-in are also fielding requests from people to hold socially distanced events like concerts, graduations, weddings, religious services, and a funeral. While COVID means Hollywood studios have kept a lid on planned blockbusters like Black Widow or Top Gun: Maverick, the drive-in theatres are showing recent movies like The Hunt along with classics like Shrek.

“There’s so many amazing movies in the past 30 to 40 years to choose from. Since we bought the theatre, we’ve been daydreaming of what we want to show, like The Goonies and Do the Right Thing,” says Drew Downs. “The drive-in is a family experience. Because we’re children of the ’80s, it brings us back to a nostalgic time.”

Canadiana alert! Check out these 5 movies that perfectly capture the beauty of Canadian landscapes.

Please note as the COVID-19 situation is constantly evolving, information is constantly changing. Check back for updates.

Featured Video