Saskatchewan·Photos

Opening night at Wolseley, Sask.'s Twilite Drive-In Theatre

Wolseley's drive-in movie theater opened its gates for the first time on Friday night, marking just the second time in its 66-year history it started the screening season late.

With physical distancing measures in place, drive-in movie theaters opened for the first time on Friday

Wolseley, Saskatchewan's Twilite Drive-In Theatre, first opened in 1954, kicked off it's 66th year of operation on Friday night, albeit with a few changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

The Twilite Drive-In's towering screen stands out from the vast rolling prairie that surrounds it — a landmark along the TransCanada highway between Regina and Winnipeg.

As daylight fades, a golden light is cast over the nearby town of Wolseley and the fields and farm equipment that surrounds the theatre's screen.

Around 6:15 p.m. CST on Friday, cars start lining up for the 8:45 p.m. (or dusk, whichever comes first) showing of Trolls — the first movie that's being shown at the Twilite this year.

Horns honk at various milestones through the evening. First, when the lights above the screen turn on and again when a presentation that displays ads, physical distancing requirements and other messages, starts to play.

Finally, horns honk almost in chorus with the familiar chant "show, show, showtime" that's said before every movie starts at the Twilite.

Families packed themselves into cars to watch Friday night's movie at the Twilite, the first of many planned showings of new and old films alike at the facility. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
These sun-faded admission tickets were kept waiting a month longer than they normally would be at the Twilite Drive-In Theater in Wolseley, Sask. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
Don Zaba has operated the Twilite Drive-In Theatre in Wolseley, Sask., for almost 30 years. He took over the business from his father, who built the screen in the mid-1950s. He and his nine other family members have run the operation through the years. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Some of the audience drove hundreds of kilometres to see the movie. Others came from nearby communities. 

For some, Friday night's drive-in movie experience was part of a blossoming tradition and celebration of nostalgia. 

For others, it was more than what they'd expected. 

Randy Rasmussen and Melody Ball traveled about 200 kilometres south, from Canora, Sask., to see Friday night's movie. Rasmussen said he and his family would always pass by the screen on trips across Canada. For Ball, the movie was a bit of a family reunion; she got to see her three children and her grandchildren at the show. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
Dixie Thomas and her granddaughter Torre Kuiper and their three dogs have been visiting the Twilite on opening and closing night for the last four years, and have made the trip from Regina multiple times over the last seven years. They said it's an escape from city life and a chance for them to catch up, while enjoying the nostalgic experience. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
Space was cleared in people's trunks and truck beds to create cozy atmospheres to take in the first Twilite Drive-In showing of the year on Friday night. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the opening of the Twilite and a handful of other drive-in movie theaters that still stand in Saskatchewan was in question. 

Owner and operator Don Zaba said he was told a few weeks ago that he'd be able to open his gates.

As part of his opening preparations this year, Zaba spray painted lines into the dirt, indicating where customers should stand to ensure they're practicing safe physical distancing while lining up for concessions and bathrooms. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
A play structure, where children would normally gather before shows begin, is taped off to enforce physical distancing measures at the Twilite Drive-In. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
Popcorn and other goodies are passed through plastic shields to customers, part of physical distancing measures Zaba had taken to ensure patrons feel safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
Ensuring vehicles were at least five meters apart was a measure Zaba took seriously, often directing traffic and asking drivers to keep a reasonable amount of space between them and the people parked next to them before the show started. ( Bryan Eneas/CBC)

It's just the second time in the Twilite's 66-year existence that the theatre opened later than expected.

In 2011, Zabra said flooding delayed the start of the season for about a month. He estimated the COVID-19 pandemic has cost him about the same amount of time. 

Zaba said the entire community of Wolseley banded together and raised about $60,000 in a single night to help fund the drive-in's conversion to digital projection in 2013. Around that time, Zaba said the drive-in business wasn't doing too well. In recent years, he said he's seeing more and more customers come through his gates. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
The Twilite Drive-In's opening was celebrated by the community in June of 1954 when it first opened. Zaba said someone at the museum found this article and gifted it to the family. It's now prominently featured in the drive-in's concession. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
Zaba said his father told him another, similar drive in was built in Fort Qu'Appelle one year after the Twilite was built. Heavy winds blew it down long ago, however. He says the Twilite is built on a concrete foundation that's about four feet in the ground, which he figures has kept it standing all these years later. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
Zaba said the Twilite switched from its old film projectors to digital projectors in 2013. He said his dad was initially skeptical of the change but was impressed by the quality of digital when he saw a screening in 2013. Zaba said he passed away later that year, having seen the transition from film to digital at the Twilite. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Physical distancing guidelines are gradually being lifted across Saskatchewan. Drive-in movie theaters have their own set of guidelines to adhere by to ensure COVID-19 isn't spread further.

Along with the Twilite Drive-In, a number of drive-in theatres opened for the first time on Friday night.

The Prairie Dog Drive-In, located in Carlyle, Sask., allowed half the number of cars to enter than it would before, and opened on Friday night.

In the Saskatoon area, a pop-up drive-in event called Cinema Under the Stars took place on Friday night and had events scheduled through the May long weekend.

While it normally offers a variety of different items for people to enjoy, the concession at the Twilite Drive-In Theatre is now only offering popcorn, pop and a few chocolate bars and candy choices. Zaba described it as an "old-school drive-in" selection. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
Older style radios still adorn the lot of the Twilite Drive-In, despite audio being offered on both FM and AM frequencies. Some in the audience chose to bring their own portable radios or speaker systems to hear the movie's audio. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
No longer in use, Zaba said he still gets asked from time to time about the old film projector that was replaced in 2013. He says he still has it and a few people have offered to buy it from him from across North America, but he has turned them down. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)
By roughly 9 p.m. most people had settled into their cars for the showing of Trolls World Tour. Zaba said he plans on showing the movie through the May long weekend and has plans to continue screening movies through the summer. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

About the Author

Bryan Eneas

Reporter

Bryan Eneas is a journalist from the Penticton Indian Band currently based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he reported in central and northern Saskatchewan. Send news tips to Bryan.Eneas@cbc.ca.

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