More Than Just Another Roadside Attraction: Drive-in Theatres in Northern BC, 1945-85
This presentation is a historical case study of a previously un-studied type of roadside commercial business in western Canada: the drive-in movie theatre. It examines a selection of drive-ins that operated in Northern British Columbia, tracing how their establishment, growth, and decline followed a general pattern, whereby they all opened in the mid to late 1950s and then closed in the late 1970s to mid 1980s.
Drive-in theatres were destinations for a district’s residents, and thus very different from those roadside businesses which provided food, gas, and lodging to passers-by. Most of the drive-ins examined in this study were owned and/or managed by independent serial entrepreneurs, who were well-known figures in their own towns and who exhibited similar community-focused business practices. Also examined in this paper are the continental and regional socio-economic and cultural contexts in which drive-ins flourished and then declined. Early on, outdoor cinemas were marketed to young families who were seeking togetherness: a night out without having to pay for a babysitter. In time, they also proved very popular with teenage drivers, for whom going to a drive-in was an extension of ‘cruising’ and ‘parking’, and gave a unique aspect to the freedom of automobility. Finally, the closure of most of the region’s drive-ins was linked to changing demographic and land-use patterns, and to changing fashions in family entertainment.
Susan Smith-Josephy is a writer, researcher, and genealogist. Trained as a journalist at Langara College, she has worked for a number of small-town newspapers in British Columbia. She also has a degree in History from SFU, and is passionate about BC history. She resides in Quesnel.
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