“(The film supply companies) are saying that within three to four years they are all going to go digital,” Don Zaba said in a recent phone conversation.
“So right now we are in the process of getting a projector (upgrade) but it’s pretty costly.”
He said he is not sure where the money is going to come from.
Zaba hopes that the theatre’s long history in the community of about 800 will be enough to qualify for a heritage grant from a government source.
The theatre is more than a business to him. His father Stan built the theatre in 1954 and his family has been operating it ever since.
Don took full control of the business in 1982 and now operates it with his wife and daughter.
He says he has enjoyed running the seasonal theatre over the past few decades and if he is forced to close, what he will miss most of all is the interaction with his patrons.
Over the years he has gotten to know the regular customers well.
He says it’s nice to have people you knew as kids coming back with their kids to the drive-in to watch the classics in their original format.
In its heyday the Twilite drive-in theatre, with a capacity for 150 cars, was a hotspot for the local residents on the weekends, he said, and it was not unusual to have visitors from nearby communities.
Don Zaba’s son Derrick, now 28, remembers working at the theatre as a child.
He said, on a personal level, because of his family ties to the theatre it has always been a source of pride as well as a place he could hang out with friends.
But “as a resident of Wolseley I think of (the drive-in) as bringing culture and history because there are not many around.”
If the theatre were forced to close the community would lose a tourist attraction, he added.
Bev Hackewich a resident of Wolseley is also concerned about the drive-in’s future.
“All through my high school I went to the drive in,” she said.
The Twilite was the place to meet friends and watch good horror movies.
Even if the movie was not interesting it was well worth a trip to sample some of the good fried mushrooms, onion rings and pop corn that the concession stand offered. “It was a really good priced form of entertainment,” said Hackewich. “I think it would be really sad (if it had to close).”
The drive-in theatre has been a weekend pastime for millions of North Americans since the 1930’s. The Twilite drive-in is among a very small number of drive-in theatres still operational in Saskatchewan. According to a Leader Post story in 2006, the province was down to six drive-ins a contrast to the 1950’s when there were over 20. Stats Canada numbers suggest that the days of the drive-in theatre are rapidly declining. In 2004 they were 54 in the country down from 68 in 1999.
The decline has been due in part to the location of many of these theatres. Most were in small rural communities where the size of the local population alone was not enough to support the seasonal drive-in theatre industry. Advancements in entertainment technology have also negatively impacted the drive-in industry.
But Don Zaba is not willing to give up on the Twilite. “I don’t think we will close,” he said.
“I think we will find some way of getting around this obstacle.”
Noting that there is still some time to come up with the money, he added.
“I will do all that is my power to keep it open.”
He is a former intern of the Western Producer (Saskatoon newsroom) and will graduate in Spring, 2012.