Some good news for a change: The drive-in is re-opening.
Highland Drive-In Theatre is opening up in Westville where Empire Drive-In once was and owner Eric Barker hopes it will be ready for audiences as early as mid-June.
Barker has owned the property, which has the ability to hold approximately 500 cars, since 2014. It was for sale at one point, but Barker is particular about the business that would locate there since his other businesses – Highland Ford and Highland Nissan – are located beside it.
“I drive by it every day and thought it really should be running, but that’s not our core business, so I just put it off. But to tell you the truth I’m just so tired of bad news – northern Nova Scotia and this area has had nothing but closures and bad news for two years. So I just thought I’m going to turn that around a little bit and create some good news.”
The drive-in theatre will fill a need for entertainment while still respecting the physical distancing requirements that have become the norm due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Barker says he’s unsure the number of vehicles that will be permitted due to these restrictions but adds, “It will certainly be half or better.”
The project is currently in the renovation and preparation stage, which is being managed by his nephew Ryan Fraser. “Ryan is my right-hand man in all of this,” Barker praises. “He’s an important, intricate part in putting all of this together.”
Barker has history with the drive-in. He says in 1969 or 1972, the drive-in was rebuilt for Odeon by Satellite Construction, the company started by his late father, Ken Barker.
“So I’ve been around it a long time,” he chuckles.
The timing is perfect for the drive-in re-opening. “I just think it’s time people had not only good news and a place to go. And I think it’s a perfect family thing. You can load the children in the car – that’s what we used to do when we were young – and go and have an evening.”
Barker has a movie supplier lined up but notes that the health pandemic has meant very few if any new movies have been released to theatres this year. “But we’ll be playing movies all summer.”
The Highland Drive-In Theatre name has come full circle. The theatre originally opened in the mid-1950s as Highland Drive-In, then changed to Hyland Drive-In around 1965, Odeon Drive-In in the mid-1970s and finally Empire Theatres took it over in the early 1990s until it closed in 2013.
What’s most important to Barker? “I just hope people enjoy it and come and have some fun.”
Highland Drive-In Theatre is now the third drive-in for Nova Scotia, alongside Valley Drive-in Theater located in Cambridge, and the Cape Breton Drive-in located in Sydney.