Calgary Herald - - NP - JILLIAN KESTLERD’AMOURS in Dor­val, Que.

Perched atop the fam­ily’s white SUV, Keero Birla’s two chil­dren, Kis­han and Dar­ian, are chat­ting ex­cit­edly about what awaits them: in less than half an hour, as soon as the sun sets, they will be watch­ing their first movie at a drive-in.

“I think we’re starved for so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, like ev­ery­body, so as soon as we heard that this was hap­pen­ing, we jumped on it,” Birla said about what brought him and his fam­ily out to the drive-in in Dor­val, a sub­urb 20 kilo­me­tres west of down­town Mon­treal.

Dor­val or­ga­nized two movie nights this week­end in an empty park­ing lot across from a shop­ping mall.

With many ac­tiv­i­ties still closed across Que­bec due to the COVID-19 pan­demic, Dor­val is one of a few places that have turned to drive-ins as a way to give res­i­dents some­thing fun to do while fol­low­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing rules.

Over a dozen rows of cars were parked in the lot on Fri­day night for a sold-out show­ing of Sonic the Hedgehog. Fam­i­lies sat on camp­ing chairs and blan­kets, in their cars or in the backs of pickup trucks — and most brought their own pop­corn.

Peo­ple are “tired of stay­ing at home and do­ing noth­ing,” said Se­bastien Gau­thier, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer for Dor­val, who said the city sold 160 spots for the Fri­day movie and spent $15,000 to or­ga­nize the two screen­ings.

“I know ev­ery­body was itch­ing to just go out and do some­thing in­ter­est­ing,” he said.

Que­bec has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pan­demic, and Dor­val was not spared. Que­be­cers first came to ap­pre­ci­ate the hor­ri­ble toll in­side long-term care homes when re­ports emerged in early April of dozens of deaths and ab­sent staff in­side Dor­val’s pri­vate Res­i­dence Her­ron.

But as new cases sub­sided in Que­bec, the prov­ince last month be­gan grad­u­ally al­low­ing busi­nesses to re­open and cer­tain ac­tiv­i­ties to re­sume. Drive-ins could re­open as of May 29, the gov­ern­ment said, as long as so­cial dis­tanc­ing rules were fol­lowed.

Birla said he re­mem­bers go­ing to a drive-in in Maine years ago on fam­ily trips, and he said he wanted to share the ex­pe­ri­ence with his own chil­dren.

“We would see a dou­ble fea­ture and eat and re­lax,” he said. “This is kind of a rare gift to be able to share that with the kids and give them an ex­pe­ri­ence that I cher­ish in my own mem­ory.”

While the Dor­val screen­ing was a one-time event, for Que­bec’s more es­tab­lished drive-ins, the rules around COVID-19 mean that this sum­mer will be un­like any other.

Only a hand­ful of sea­sonal drive-ins — known as ciné­parcs in French — still op­er­ate in the prov­ince, in­clud­ing one in St-eus­tache, just north of Mon­treal, that has been show­ing out­door movies for decades.

“We (have owned) the ciné-parc since 1971,” said Brigitte Mathers, pres­i­dent of Groupe Mathers, which runs the drive-in along with a nearby flea mar­ket. “We have five screens and we can have up to 3,300 cars.”

But with so­cial dis­tanc­ing rules in place, Mathers said the drive-in will only be able to take in about half the usual num­ber of cars be­cause they need to be parked more than two me­tres apart.

Mathers said she also de­cided to only show one movie per screen dur­ing the drive-in’s in­au­gu­ral week­end, which be­gan Fri­day, so that she could make sure ev­ery­thing runs smoothly.

“It’s very com­pli­cated. Nat­u­rally, it’s not go­ing to be as busy, but there’s noth­ing you can do,” she said.

An­other un­ex­pected prob­lem, Mathers said, is that new re­leases aren’t com­ing out while movie the­atres re­main closed due to the pan­demic.

This week­end, Ciné-parc St-eus­tache is show­ing movies that came out in 2018, 2019 and ear­lier this year: Aqua­man, Blood­shot, On­ward, Trolls World Tour, and a Que­bec film, Men­teur.

“There’s one (new) movie com­ing out in July,” Mathers said.

“But (oth­er­wise) it’s all old prod­uct, be­cause the pro­duc­ers are all hold­ing their movies for when ev­ery­body is go­ing to be open.”

Still, some of Que­bec’s smaller drive-ins are hop­ing that a lack of other op­tions dur­ing the pan­demic will bring peo­ple out in large num­bers.

There are drive-ins in Que­bec’s Gaspé re­gion, in the Lau­ren­tians north of Mon­treal, in Mont-st-hi­laire, about 40 kilo­me­tres south­east of Mon­treal, and in Sher­brooke in the Eastern Town­ships.

“There are no fes­ti­vals, there are no shows, the cin­e­mas are still closed, so I think that will mean an in­crease in in­ter­est for the drive-in,” said François Pradella, co-owner of Ciné-parc Or­ford in Sher­brooke.

He said for its May 29 re­open­ing, the two-screen drive-in was re­con­fig­ured for phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing al­low­ing up to 650 cars each night — about 85 per cent its usual ca­pac­ity.

“Peo­ple who didn’t have drive-ins on their radar, I think they’re go­ing to give us a sec­ond look be­cause there’s noth­ing else (to do),” he said.

The town of Vau­dreuil-do­rion, just west of Mon­treal, is test­ing that the­ory: It al­lo­cated $100,000 to build a drive-in in a high school park­ing lot for the sum­mer. Ex­pected to open in early July, it will be able to ac­com­mo­date 100 cars.

Mayor Guy Pilon said he hopes the new at­trac­tion will give fam­i­lies a chance to do some­thing fun to­gether dur­ing the pan­demic — and bring the ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing movies un­der the stars to a younger gen­er­a­tion.

That is what 15-year-old Olivia Dunk was ex­cited about in Dor­val, sit­ting in her fam­ily’s van with her brother Gavin, 12, and fa­ther, Fred, just be­fore the movie be­gan Fri­day.

“You don’t re­ally see (drive-ins) nowa­days ... It’s not some­thing that’s around in 2020,” she said.


Peo­ple watch a movie Fri­day at the re­open­ing of the St-eus­tache Drive-in near Mon­treal. The op­er­a­tion is one of only a hand­ful of sea­sonal drive-ins in Que­bec but makeshift ones are pop­ping up as the lock­down eases.

Mem­bers of the Bouchard fam­ily set­tle in as they wait for the show to start Fri­day at the St-eus­tache Drive-in.

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