Drive-In Classics – A look at Guelph’s Mustang Drive In Theatre

Article By Steven Petric

Ah, the drive-in movie. There is something about hearing the ‘Beach Boys’ playing from the speakers inside a vintage ’50’s era snack bar.

There is no mistaking that feeling of a different era, especially at the Mustang Drive-In in Guelph. The Mustang’s owners have been promoting that feeling of retro at the 1959 built drive-in on a hill in Guelph’s eastern edge for many years,

The Drive-In was once a form of entertainment many had predicted was headed for extinction. Back in 1975, there were about 315 drive-ins in Canada. According to Statistics Canada’s last drive-in survey in 2004/2005, there were 58 drive-in theatres left across Canada. Today drive-ins are making a strong comeback across North America, and business at the one in Guelph is reflecting that.

As a kid, my dad brought myself and my 2 younger brothers there every so often. It was fascinating and different, especially since the 2 theatres Guelph had at the time were pretty run down. My Dad also told me about the many times he went to the Mustang, and how much it had changed since then.

Originally, audio was provided by speakers on the screen and later by an individual speaker for each car. This system was superseded by the more economical method of broadcasting the soundtrack at a low output power on AM or FM Radio to be picked up by a car radio, an advantageous method as it allows the soundtrack to be picked up in stereo by the audience instead of monaural. A great History of the Drive-In can be found here.

Guelph Public Library photo archives (F45-0-4-0-0- JEM Drive-in, Guelph, in 1962.

Copyright: Guelph Public Library photo archives (F45-0-4-0-0-35)
JEM Drive-in, Guelph, in 1962.

 

Canada’s attendance at drive-in theatres jumped by more than 20 per cent in fiscal year 2004-05, according to a report by Statistics Canada. That is good. The drive-in needs to rebound. It is something today’s kids need to experience.

According to Mustang’s owners, ticket sales at his drive in have gradually been climbing, and of course, combined with the right weather, blockbuster flicks, they will pack the 550-car lot full, even turning back cars sometimes.

The success at the Mustang drive in can be pointed to the strategy of bring back families to the drive-in by running only the latest movies and avoiding R-rated slashers and horror flicks. Plus kicking out the drinkers and the trouble makers, which is what my dad remembers about the drive-in’s of old. Drive-ins are no longer the “passion pits” that run B-movies for frisky teenagers, although the ‘frisky ‘part may still be around.

“There’s the freedom to do as you choose. You’re in the outdoors, you can stay inside your vehicle, or you can bring your lawn chair and enjoy the night’s stars,” the Mustang Drive-In’s owners said in a Guelph Mercury newspaper article during one of the showings.

“Families don’t have to worry about babysitting. If the kids are tired, bring your pillows, and sleep in the vehicle, and smokers, come one, come all. Then there’s the sunsets. You won’t get that anywhere else.”

I remember those long weekends. The Mustang always runs the all-nighters, four movies that play until the sun comes up the next morning. It has to be one of the best things to do. Attempting to stay up for all 4 flicks can be a challenge, and I always failed as a kid, maybe it’s time to go back and try it again.

I always say to people you need to go for the nostalgia. I want to show you guys out there how cool it is to go to the drive-in. It is something different and something everyone should go out and experience at least once.

In the early 1980’s, there were lots of drive-ins in the Guelph area. One was the KW Drive-in which was built in 1950 and operated until 1991. Located between on Bridge Port Road, The KW Drive-in had a capacity of 875.

That may be a big reason why more are flocking to the Mustang since there are fewer drive-ins to choose from. The next closest drive-ins are in Hamilton, whose owners, Premier Operating Corp. of Toronto, spent $1 million to upgrade and expand it adding things like beach volleyball courts, a ’50s-style diners, playgrounds, and even extra screens. They also run drive-ins in London and Oakville.

The real threat to drive-ins is soaring real estate prices. Which is what is happening to many drive-ins across North America seeing the land transformed into residential and retail development. We shouldn’t see that happen to the Mustang anytime soon as it is located well outside the city limits.

From what I can tell, the demand never really left, it simply was the supply that went and today, it looks like it is coming back.

For current showing at the Mustang Drive-In Click here

Related Links:

Flash from the Past: Speedvale Avenue site held Guelph Drive-In Theatre

Mustang got started as the Jem Drive-In Theatre

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