Aug. 25: Muskoka Drive-In, Gravenhurst ON

Muskoka Drive-In screen on a rock with playground equipment in front

Flickr photo by Cory Doctorow, author of
Pirate Cinema and several other fine novels

It’s Day 237 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey, and my 12th in Ontario. It took just a bit over an hour to drive from Midland to the Muskoka Drive-In, about a mile northeast of Gravenhurst ON. It’s hard to tell distances with all those kilometers they use up here.

The Muskoka is yet another drive-in with its origins well separated from anything on the internet. Several online sources say that it opened in 1952, and at least one says it operated continuously ever since. My almanacs verify that it was there in 1953, although they lose track of it in the 1970s. That doesn’t prove anything; I know of other uncounted drive-ins, though it’s unusual for those folks to lose one if it didn’t actually close.

What makes this place probably unique is that the screen is made of cement and is built on top of a giant granite boulder. The drive-in’s slogan is “Meet You at the rock!” They claim that some of the playground equipment in front of the screen is also original, and the surrounding forest on three sides helps keep the ambient light down.

From the internet’s perspective, the Muskoka sprang into being with William Alexander. According to the Huntsville Forester, Alexander acquired the place in 2008. “Unlike (other theatres), this drive-in really has a heart and a soul,” he said. “When you go there, with the grassy ramps, with the trees surrounding it, and that screen on the giant rock, it’s got character. And it’s unlike any other drive-in that I’ve ever experienced.”

In 2014, Alexander launched an online fundraiser on Fundrazr.com. He spoke with City TV’s Breakfast Television while he was working as a grip on the dog-saves-Christmas movie Shelby, starring Chevy Chase and Tom Arnold. “We’re marching forward very proudly because the drive-in for many years was allowed to run down, and we’ve taken over the last five years, we’ve been building it back up again,” he said. “Last year, we have a phenomenal year, but it just wasn’t enough to get us over the hump because there were so many slow years in rebuilding the brand of the drive-in.” That fundraiser fell short, but Alexander had told CTV News Barrie that he needed to buy a digital projector regardless of the outcome. “So it’s either you upgrade or fall by the wayside.”

Taking advantage of the capabilities of that new equipment, Alexander is still running the show. In June 2017, he helped a patron pop the question with a special video before the movie. She said yes.

There’s a decent YouTube video of the Muskoka from 2012, but it’s really more of an ad for Ford, so I put it down here.

I love the setting at the Muskoka, but I can’t say as much for this night’s movie. My second viewing of The Nut Job 2 was at least one too many.

Miles Today / Total: 56 / 27929 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: The Nut Job 2 / 151

Nearby Restaurant: First there’s the Sawdust City Brewery, with an amazing raspberry radler. In its parking lot, if you’re as lucky as me, is the Grillicious Gourmet Food Truck. A great burger and hand-cut fries sound pedestrian, but out of the food truck, they tasted marvelous. Or maybe that was the beer talking.

Where I Virtually Stayed: It’s a bit touristy and not at all inexpensive, but the Residence Inn Gravenhurst Muskoka Wharf is very, very nice. Each room has a full kitchen, rewarding someone who stays for a week more than just one night. Breakfast has everything anyone would need. And most noteworthy are the views of Muskoka Bay. I really wish I could stay longer.

Only in Gravenhurst: The inappropriately sized furniture week continues. The world’s largest Muskoka chair is another feature of the Sawdust City Brewery parking lot, as captured by photos on Roadside America. The chair is 21 feet high by 16 feet wide and painted bright yellow. It was built in 2010 to replace one destroyed by a tornado.

Next stop: Sunset Barrie Drive-In Theatre, Oro-Medonte ON.

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