The Only Show in Town

Posted on October 15, 2014 under Storytelling with no comments yet


Photo courtesy of Antigonish Heritage Museum



I recently saw a screening of a short film on the exterior wall of the local theater. It was part of an arts extravaganza called “Art after Dark” or to locals, “Antigonight”.  It was an unseasonably warm evening and a small crowd had assembled for the viewing. It was an original film produced by an up and coming local artist that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.  It felt good to stand in this random cluster, drawn together by chance for a few moments of solidarity.  With the technology explosion of late there are countless other ways to entertain ourselves, many of them solitary activities experienced within the confines of our houses.

But it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the movie theater was the beating heart of most small communities; an escape from the drudgery of everyday toil … when playing cards or tag or red rover was just not entertaining enough.


I can still see Mary Poppins flying through the air in this 1964 classic film. I remember going to the candy store across from the theater, clutching my hard earned allowance of 50 cents.  Or down to Foch’s Corner Store to get a Macintosh‘s toffee (lasted longer than sponge toffee!).  Admission to see the show was 37 cents, which left 13 cents for treats.  And let me tell you, back then 13 cents could buy a young person a full blown bellyache.

Some people didn’t get an allowance and had to be creative. The community dump used to be located right in town, where the Public Works building now stands.  Saturday was important as much of the garbage was collected and dropped off on that day.  Industrious young guys would hang around and gather up beer bottles.  They would march right over to Pete Poirier’s Bottle Exchange.  They would make enough to go to the show with a bag of candy.  Pete, in his wisdom, was also a purveyor of sugar laced confections.

Going to the theater on a Saturday afternoon was as much a religious experience as going to Mass on Sunday. We couldn’t wait to see the next Western movie or watch the high jinks of Larry, Moe and Curly Joe.  And when Superman came to town; well, you could expect huge lineups.

Just about everyone has a memorable story to tell about going to the movie theatre. Four young girls from a staunch Catholic family were being treated to a movie by their grandmother.  For the seven year old, this was her first experience.  The grandmother marched them in like a battalion of well-trained soldiers, similar to the weekly parade to Sunday Mass.  She picked the aisle and pointed to the long row of red velvet seats.  The youngest was the first to go in and dropped to one knee, executing a perfect genuflection, much to the horror of her siblings.  Her grandmother stifled laughter and it was only years later that this child was told the truth of the matter.

And some of you will remember Nesbitt’s orange soda; you could gain admittance to the matinee if you could produce 5 Nesbitt bottle caps (or crowns, as they were called). For most of us that was a tall order but if your parents owned a restaurant that was almost a license to print money … in soda lids, that is.  One young enterprising lass showed up at a Roy Rogers/Dale Evans show with a brown paper bag stuffed to the gills with Nesbitt crowns.  On this day she was easily the most popular person in town.  She dispensed them to anyone who wanted free admission.  Even the manager, John B., saw the humour in this.  “Free for all” took on a whole new meaning.

Movie theaters today just don’t provide the same viewing experience, especially the large multi-screen behemoths that dot the landscape. The old theaters had character.  Most of them had a separate small cage where the ticket attendant sat.  The floors had thick, lush carpet.  I`m not sure if this was the healthiest choice of décor but it gave the place a unique feel.  And there was the unmistakable aroma of hot buttered popcorn.

Looking back, 1964 dished up an interesting melange of movies, most that I could attend but a few that were off limits. After hearing The Beatles produce hit after hit, we got to see them in the not so memorable movie, “Hard Day’s Night”.   I watched my first James Bond action movie that year with the release of “Goldfinger”.  And old swivel hips (Elvis the Pelvis!) himself starred in “Viva Las Vegas”.

Most thirteen year old boys begged their parents to see one movie, in particular. It wasn’t a “duster” as we called the Western genre, an action thriller or a comedy.  No, it was something much more intriguing and the title certainly got everyone’s attention: “Sex and the Single Girl”.  The only conceivable way to see this classic was to sneak in, something that the more adventurous guys did routinely.

It is still exciting to go and watch a flick on the big screen. A night out will always feel more special than an evening at home.  Back then, I couldn’t wait for the lights to go out so that I might be so bold as to hold a young woman’s hand, one of life’s greatest thrills.

Today, if I’m lucky, my better half will hold my hand at the movies. I’m not certain whether this is a sign of affection or whether she’s just checking my pulse to make sure I’m alive when I nod off.


Nesbitt soda cap

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