It’s Day 245 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey, and my 20th in Ontario. Despite the Labour Day Weekend traffic, it took just over an hour to drive from Kingston to the Port Elmsley Drive-In Theatre, just west of Port Elmsley, about halfway between Smiths Falls and Perth.
I’m fortunate to have two very good history sources for the Port Elmsley. The blog of Arlene Stafford-Wilson, author of Lanark County Chronicle and several other books, and the drive-in’s web site’s History page combine to flesh out a lot more details than I’ve found for a lot of drive-ins.
First, the beginning. The drive-in site says says that there’s a legend that Bill Williams won the 10 acres that the drive-in sits on in a poker game. Stafford-Wilson cites The Perth Courier in writing that construction of the Port Elmsley was under way in September 1952, and it opened in May 1953. But, according to the drive-in site, it “closed a couple days later as the land was so marshy that dozens upon dozens of cars got stuck opening weekend.” After adding a whole lot of gravel, the problem was solved.
The Williams family owned and operated the Port Elmsley from its opening until the end of the 1997 season, when it shut down. It stayed dark until Jan Stepniak bought the drive-in in 2000. Dave Bird and his family bought it in 2007 and converted to digital projection in 2012.
Bird told CTV Ottawa, “Growing up as a kid I think I took them for granted like everyone else, it never occured to me that they’d disappear or go away,”
If you want to see what the Port Elmsley looks like, I’d recommend a 2011 post at the Lord of the Wings blog. It describes a night at the drive-in with over a dozen photos. Note for US readers: Pogos are the Canadian brand name for corn dogs.
Miles Today / Total: 59 / 28321 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: The Nut Job 2 / 159
Nearby Restaurant: I enjoyed an unpretentious tasty lunch at the Rocky River Cafe in Perth. A half-pound Rocky burger and some French onion soup fortified me against the chilly, overcast day.
Where I Virtually Stayed: It’s always nice to find a small motel that has everything I need and helps me stay in my lodging budget. The Tay Inn faces the Trans-Canada Highway and looks like just another old-style motel, but it’s very nicely maintained. My room had the full set of modern amenities, and with a Tim Hortons across the street, I didn’t have any problem with breakfast.
Only in Perth: A stone house built in 1840 for a senator in Canada’s first parliament has been converted to the Perth Museum. The ground floor features rooms set in period detail, but the third floor includes an array of minerals and fossils.
Next stop: Skylight Drive-In, Pembroke ON.