Aug. 31: Mustang Drive-In, Picton ON

It’s Day 243 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey, (I’m 2/3 of the way through!), and my 18th in Ontario. It took an hour and a quarter to drive from Havelock to the Mustang Drive-In, a few miles west of Picton.

The Mustang opened as the Picton Drive-In in April 1956. It changed its name to the Mustang around 1970, give or take a year or two. It was a single screen with room for about 350 cars.

The modern story of the Mustang is the story of Paul Peterson. As detailed in a wonderful, long article in the National Post, Peterson was working as a counsellor for young offenders and youth in crisis. While driving with his wife in the summer of 1988, took a shortcut. The couple saw the neglected drive-in – “the word ‘abandoned’ would be appropriate,” he said while telling this story – and noticed it was for sale. Peterson pulled over and said to his wife, “Wow, that’d be cool, let’s buy it.”

Peterson said he knew nothing about running a drive-in, and he had a lot of work to do. He had to spruce up the place physically, and he had to change its clientele. “The drive-in Paul inherited, to hear him tell it, was a regular Gomorrah.” After seeing the problem for himself, he took out an ad in the Picton Gazette stating, “The Mustang Drive-In now has a zero tolerance policy for alcohol.” The throng of partiers left, and after a good while, families began to return a few at a time.

The Mustang added a second screen in 2004 and digital projectors around 2015. “We’re digital now,” Peterson told the Toronto Star that year. “That’s changed. That means we’re poor. But really, it’s the same. Lots of fun.”

It takes a character to build a drive-in of character. Based on recent photos, they added the Mustang name to the screen tower less than 10 years ago. The ticket booth is a repurposed city bus. And there’s the honking ritual. As the Post put it, one night Peterson “stood in front of a lot full of cars with a microphone in his hand and said, ‘Look, you’re going to honk at me anyway, so you might as well do it now.’ The place erupted like a wedding convoy. ‘They did it and they loved it,’ Paul told me. ‘Every night since then we’ve honked. It was kismet.’”

Miles Today / Total: 60 / 28207 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: The Nut Job 2 / 157

Nearby Restaurant: Unlike me, the Crepe Escape spells the name of that delicate pastry with a circumflex over the first e. That attention to detail illustrates how serious these folks are to dishing it up right. I enjoyed a ham and cheese crepe for lunch, followed by a chocolate and blueberries crepe for dessert. I saved some of it to nibble on while I watched the movie.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Picton is the kind of place with historic lodging reflecting its long history. I’m not sure how long the Picton Harbour Inn has been around, but it’s being nicely renovated and offers a price closer to my budget for this odyssey. My top-floor queen room had a comfy bed and good wifi, plus a great view of the harbor.

Only in Picton: In the middle of Picton, halfway between a Dollar Store and a Tim Hortons, is the Un Gallery, a store with “Affordable Art that everyone can enjoy!” It offers paintings, jewelry, sculpture, and lots of other stuff, mostly from eastern Canadian artists. The selection changes often, but it’s always eccentric, quirky and fun.

Next stop: Kingston Family FunWorld, Kingston ON.

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