a peek inside the fishbowl

29 Aug, 2009

Road trip to Perth and the Port Elmsley Drive In: part 2

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Easy ways to make kids happy|travel talk

(Continued from here.)

When’s the last time you’ve been to a drive-in movie? When I first moved to Ottawa the Coliseum on Carling Avenue used to be a drive-in theatre called the Britannia Drive-in. According to this wikipedia entry it closed in 1996.

After our chat the other day Bruce Deachman was kind enough to email me some photos. He’s kindly given me permission to post a couple of them here. Here’s one taken from the top of the movie screen looking out toward the lot and the concession stand:

Bruce Deachman's view of the Port Elmsley Drive in

And the concession stand itself:

Bruce Deachman: Port Elmsley concession stand

I remember going to the drive-in when I was a kid, happily pj-clad while watching a movie in the back of my friend’s family station wagon (wood panelled, of course), and falling asleep on the drive home.

Sadly, drive-in theatres are a dying breed around here. That’s why we took a trip to the Port Elmsley Drive In near Smiths Falls. I’ve been eager to recreate the drive-in experience for Emma and Sarah so making an entire day out of it was a small price to pay for what would surely be a memorable, nay, life-altering experience.

As we sped away from Perth down the pretty highway I was practically writing this post in my head. It was going to be a lovely clear night. The girls were going to play on the swings and before the movie began, and then tired and happy, they were going to settle in the back seat of our ’99 Mazda Protege (sans wood panelling) and watch the movie while eating copious amounts of fresh popcorn.

We arrived a shade early so we went to check out a nearby lock, part of the Rideau Canal which I think is called the Beveridges Lock. I’m glad we did.

I watched swallows catching bugs in mid-air as the sun sank lower towards the horizon. There were boats parked in the canal:


… and the girls happily walked the narrow bridge crossing from one side to the other.

Crossing the canal

After awhile we decide to make our way to the drive-in and snag a good spot.

(TIP #1: Park your car so your front tires are on TOP OF the grassy slope. It ensures a better view.)

We were one of the first cars to arrive. We took this opportunity to enlist the girls to help clean the windshield (which was littered with bug corpses from our drive to Perth.)

Cleaning the window at Port Elmsley Drive in

The lot soon started to fill up. The girls played in the 1969-era park (complete with metal slide and swings) and picked clover blossoms:


That’s when Mark noticed that almost every single car was covered in a giant mosquito net. We laughed – LAUGHED – at these crazy bug-phobic moviegoers.

And then the sun set.

The Main Feature

(photoshop artistry by Mark!)

Cue the bugs. The mosquitos began to POUR INTO THE CAR. Watching them fly over the top of my open window was like watching water slip over a rock in the middle of a rushing river. I sat there, first in dumb amazement followed by a frenzy of slapping.

We were sitting ducks, or as someone pointed out to me later, easy targets cowering in our own miserable little bunker.

(TIP #2: Trust the locals. THEY KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING.)

(TIP #3: Invest in mosquito netting. Like this. Or something like this. Or spray yourself top to bottom with DEET.)

We had nothing. No bug spray, no citronella coils, no netting. It was just us, trapped in our own car, stinking of the heat of the summer. The news was out and we were bait.

The only thing we could do was roll up the windows.

Guess what happened then? It took surprisingly few minutes before it got hot in the car and we steamed up the windows, totally unable to see. We rolled down the windows to let some fresh air in. Dusk was over, Mark mused aloud. The mosquitoes would probably be gone. Right?

Ha ha. No.

They were just waiting for us.

We rolled the windows up again. And then we had to start the car to clear the front window, which we had to do periodically otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to see the movie.

(TIP #3: Fellow movie goers do not like it when you start the car during the feature movie. Not only is it noisy, but your daytime running lights can be very distracting.)

(TIP #4: Deploy your emergency parking brake (a.k.a your hand brake) to prevent your daytime running lights from turning on while you start the car.)

As if this all wasn’t bad enough, someone in the car (it wasn’t me) decided to take their shoes off and unleash their stinky feet.

Imagine this scene, will you? Shall we review?

Hot stinky car. Mosquitos. Itchy bites. Foggy front window.

All this happened within the first 15 minutes of the film, which was something about guinea pigs. I was feeling pretty miserable. My ankles were being ravaged by mosquitoes I hadn’t managed to kill and no amount of popcorn was going to cheer me up.

The girls didn’t seem to notice that all of this was going on. They happily accepted the periodic turning on/turning off of the car and the renegade mosquitoes concentrated on me and didn’t make it into the back seat.

They happily munched on their popcorn and followed the story about crime-fighting guinea pigs.

You’re probably wondering what the benefits are to going to a drive-in theatre. Well, there are a few.

  1. 1) It’s cheap.
  2. 2) Parents with infants can easily catch a movie while the kids snooze in their car seats. And as long as your windows are rolled up no one will be able to hear a fussy baby.
  3. 3) There is food on site but you can bring a picnic dinner to eat or combine it with a trip to Perth like we did (just pick a better restaurant).

I might attempt to do this next summer. But next time I’m bringing bug spray AND the netting. I wouldn’t think of going without them.

6 Responses to "Road trip to Perth and the Port Elmsley Drive In: part 2"

1 | Brie

August 29th, 2009 at 10:49 am


Oh no! Things you forget about when you watch movies in the theater. I do love the drive in though. I would be tempted to brave it. With netting.

2 | Mark

August 29th, 2009 at 3:27 pm


…and the stinky feet were not mine…let’s just leave it at that.

3 | Shan

August 29th, 2009 at 9:20 pm


The drive-in in our town has become quite popular again. I think it’s in large part to the family friendly ticket prices. One night a week is cheap night ($2 for kids, $5 for adults) and another night it’s a $15 carload. My girlfriend takes her 4 girls all the time.We had hoped to take our daughters this year, but we didn’t get there. My oldest did go on her week away with Granny and thought it was the best thing ever. I’ll have to keep your tips in mind for next year.

4 | The Ultimate Ottawa bucket list! >> a peek inside the fishbowl

April 25th, 2012 at 7:16 am


[…] Pretend like it’s 1969 and motor over to the drive in […]

5 | The cheapest way to catch a movie in Ottawa >> a peek inside the fishbowl

July 17th, 2013 at 11:11 am


[…] STILL ON THE CHEAP SIDE – the Port Elmsley Drive-In, which I wrote about here. On Thursdays you can bring a carload of people for only $20. Not bad eh? Got anything to add? […]

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