Belmont man rallies to save Westville Drive-In

By Randi Beers - Special to the Truro Daily News

Published on July 7, 2013

BELMONT – When Fred Priest learned the drive-in theatre in Westville was going to close, he decided to make some phone calls.

“In Nova Scotia and in Canada in general I think, people tend to say, ‘oh, they’re gonna do it anyway and they sit back and let things happen,’” said the Belmont native.

“I’m going to call my MLA, heritage minister, CTV. I just got started yesterday. Hopefully I can get the word out there.”

Priest has been a regular moviegoer at the Empire-owned Westville Drive-In for 15 years.

Two weeks ago, Empire Company, the parent group of Sobeys and Empire Theatres, announced they were selling the company to Cineplex Cinemas in a $200 million dollar deal. The Westville Drive-In, which was built in 1952, was not included in the sale but the land will be repurposed. Empire will retain the property, however the company has said a theatre is not in the property’s future.

“I was shocked when I found out about it,” said Priest.

“For years I’d go pretty near every weekend.  It was great for stargazing. We’d get there just in time to see Jupiter going down.”

He said many people around the province make the trip to the Westville Drive-In and he’s met people who have travelled to the theatre from as far away as Cape Breton and Shelburne.

He figures the theatre is so popular because, at $20 a carload, it’s cheaper for a lot of families. Also, he said people can set their blankets out, sit on lawn chairs and their children will fall asleep by the time the second movie is finished.

“There’s an excellent strawberry patch at the back,” said Priest’s daughter, Peggy Ray, who lives in Dartmouth. “Sometimes we pick berries before the movie starts.”

Ray added she knows of people who commute from Dartmouth to Westville to catch a movie at the drive-in.

Priest took his family to the theatre Friday night after he heard it was closing to catch ‘The Croods’ and check out what was going on.

He said there is a petition to make the structure a historical property with about 300 names on it and locals are organizing a protest.

“What these companies need to realize is the same people who go to the theatre, they shop at Sobeys,” he said. “I went to their store when it was just a little storefront on Inglis Street. I supported it when it was a small business. I could just as well shop at Superstore.”

Priest also mentioned there has been talk of the possibility of a group coming together to purchase the property to keep the theatre running.

“Someone was talking to me last night and he said, ‘if (Cineplex) would lease it, we could see if we could make it work,’” said Priest.

The $200 million cash sale of Empire Theatres to Cineplex Cinema is expected to go through at the end of this summer, but the deal is still subject to regulatory conditions, including approval from the Competition Bureau.

There is a ‘Save Westville Empire Drive-in’ group on Facebook with more than 3,000 members. On the site, members are currently organizing the details of a protest.

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Twitter: @TDNRandi