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Drive in movie theatre at Stevenson Farms kicked off last weekend

July 16, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Business owners have been forced to think outside the box throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have had to move online or drastically change the way they operate to be in compliance with the government’s orders and keep everybody safe.

Stevenson Farms B&B has been struggling financially with the cancellation of all their weddings and events this summer, leading its owners Stephen and Susan Milne to partner with Circle Theatre to create a drive-in move theatre.

“We were just desperately trying to find a new income source because our B&B and our spa were closed and my income stream as a television director was also pulled, so pretty much everything was done,” Stephen Milne explained.

“I’m a big movie fan and we have a little theatre in our house… we heard that drive-ins were opening so we thought well… we have beautiful country farm fields with wheat swaying in the wind – it’s the perfect backdrop.”

The drive-thru is small, fitting a maximum of 30-40 cars but it’s a very unique setting with a countryside backdrop, which blended in nicely for Stevenson Farms first set of showings over the weekend.

“The screen is located on a tree and surrounded by leaves, so watching Jurassic Park was awesome because it literally looked like the dinosaurs were in the trees,” Milne enthused.

“It was pretty exciting Saturday night, we definitely had to go through some rain storms but there’s scenes in the movie where it takes place during thunder and lightning storms so it was kind of epic actually.”

The movie showings aren’t strictly just for films, Stevenson Farms also opens up an outdoor patio to serve alcohol as the sun’s setting and partnered with an ice cream truck business.

Partnering with Circle Theatre made the most sense for Stevenson Farms as they are neighbours, sharing a field across from each and have been affected financially by the pandemic as well.

“We thought okay, they’re sort of suffering, we’re suffering, so let’s meet in the middle and join forces,” Milne said.

“They also have the cinematic licenses, so they’re kind of running the operations of it – the ticketing, licensing with the distribution companies and then we’re sort of hosting it on our land with our equipment,” he continued.

“It’s a story of small-town businesses joining forces and doing something wacky and crazy out in the country.”

Having events return to the public has been important for many people’s mental well-being and health, and Milne noted that the drive-in provided a much-needed break for many who attended.

“We’re getting a lot of desperate parents with their kids showing up and they’re just so grateful and happy just to have anything to do that’s kind of family friendly, where you can feel like you’re getting out and being safe,” he said.

A lot of legwork went into the safety aspect of hosting movies at Stevenson Farms, according to Milne.

“It was weeks and weeks of researching and talking to the health units, talking to the town councils and building places just to make sure everything was done right and that we’re following the proper protocol,” he remarked.

However, Milne said he’s just happy to be able to roll up his sleeves and create something for the community.

“After being cooped for four months, this is very liberating, being able to think outside the box,” he said.

Some of the less glamorous aspects of running a drive-in theatre, which Milne has discovered since starting recently, is cleaning bird and squirrel poop off his projector’s screen daily.

“It’s like this giant target that they’re hitting,” he chuckled. “It’s like, jeez guys, please! Stop trying to hit my screen.”

While Milne doesn’t expect to turn a large profit from hosting 30-40 cars for his drive-in on the weekends, he hopes the idea will grow as COVID-19 restrictions loosen.

“I think the comeback of drive-ins is definitely a real thing for this year anyways,” he said.

“There may not be super big financial rewards but there’s other rewards just in terms of feeling connected to a community, the exposure and the opportunity for other businesses to kind of come together, work together and be strong together.”

A future movie they’re hoping to show is “From the Vine” which was created by a filmmaker in Newmarket and was supposed to be released into theatres around this time, prior to the pandemic.

During this showing, Milne said they’d decorate the farm to be Italian-themed, have wine tastings and make it into a small-town gala style premier.

“We want to give them a sense of traveling somewhere when they can’t,” he noted. “I think that’s the beauty of movies during these times is it gives us an escape.”

As the nights get shorter and the sun sets sooner, Stevenson Farms hopes to do double bills, whereas right now the sun sets around 9 p.m. pushing their events later into the evening, allowing only one movie to be shown.

Although, drive-in move nights aren’t the only focus for Stevenson Farms. The business is also interested in hosting school graduations, celebrations of life, and other outdoor gatherings that could benefit from a large screen and serene setting.

Milne told the Times he has a strong passion for movies and keeping his business alive, so hopefully his efforts this year aren’t in vain.

“We’re literally hanging on to a dream, just like in movies… and we’re hoping that this one has a happy ending too,” he said.

By Sam Odrowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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