Sept. 14: Sussex Drive In, Sussex NB

Lit drive-in at night with cars, the screen, and the concession stand

Photo from the Sussex Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 257 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Another long drive (almost six hours) through the Canadian woods brought me from Sydney, near the eastern tip of Nova Scotia, to the Sussex Drive In in Sussex, New Brunswick.

A blog post by Open Air Cinema in 2009 gives us a few hints about the origin of the Sussex. It was founded by Gerald Alexander and his family in 1967, and they had kept the single-screen drive-in in operation ever since. Saint John NB businessmen Tom Boudreau, Paul Galloway and Randy Defazio bought the place in 2008 and separately purchased the adjacent campground.

“And like every year, the canteen will carry its complete menu,” Open Air Cinema wrote, “including typical movie favourites such as popcorn and nachos, as well as chicken wings, hamburgers, hotdogs, pogos, clams and chips, fries and onion rings.” Clams and chips? That’s a thing around here.

In 2012, the Sussex made the switch to digital projection, which led to a CBC News article. Manager Cindy MacDonald said, “If we wanted to keep the drive-in open, we didn’t have much choice but to do the upgrade because those big, old movie reels are going to be a thing of the past very soon.”

This year, the Telegraph-Journal (subscription required) wrote about the Sussex for its opening weekend. “It’s never been shut down in the over 50 years it has been in operation. It’s a part of the Sussex community, and it has been for years,” said Boudreau, described simply as “owner” in the article.

Boudreau said the drive-in reached its capacity of “around 450″ twice in 2016, turning away over a hundred cars. “Those were two great weekends last year, and we’re hoping to have weekends like that this year. On average we see from 70 to 80.”

For me, the most important update was on the Sussex Facebook page last week. “That’s a wrap folks! Thanks again to all our loyal customers for another great season! Have a great fall and winter, we will see you again in 2018!”

Miles Today / Total: 346 / 30408 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 163

Nearby Restaurant: A good old retro-feel diner is a decent choice as a substitute when the drive-in is closed for the season. In Sussex, that means JJ’s Diner. I was expecting burgers to go with the white-black checkerboard floor and the red vinyl furniture, but the hot turkey sandwich was even better. Topped with a banana split supreme for dessert, and I was set for the night.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The only thing better than a nice, safe chain motel is a really great mom and pop place like the Pinecone Motel. The rooms are clean and full of all the modern amenities. The best part is breakfast, featuring homemade blueberry waffles along with the continental breakfast regulars. All at less than half the price I paid the night before.

Only in Sussex: Just east of the Pinecone Motel is / was Animaland, founded in the 1960s by concrete sculptor Winston Bronnum. He wanted to build the “Disneyland of the north” along what was then the main highway into town. It was closed in the mid-1990s, but was reborn as a campground this year. Blowhard the bony horse still stands out front to welcome visitors.

Next stop: Neptune Drive-In, Shediac NB.