The Prairie Dog Drive-In Theatre in Carlyle has stood the test of time, becoming one of only a few drive-in movie theatres remaining in Saskatchewan.
It opened for its 40th season during the Victoria Day long weekend.
This year the theatre opened by showing Trolls World Tour, which is an animation production.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic there was some worry if the theatre would be allowed to open. The Saskatchewan Government just recently gave the thumbs up for the opening, and we all know that “the show must go on.”
The Prairie Dog has been operated by Ray Boutin and his wife Frances, with the help of their daughters, Simone and Janelle. They became the proprietors in 1997, purchasing it from the original owner who built and opened the theatre in 1980.
It is located on the flatlands north of Carlyle, adjacent to Highway 9, which is the gateway to the summer vacation resorts of Kenosee Lake and White Bear Lake.
The theatre was originally called the KenPar Cinema; Boutin changed the name to the Prairie Dog Theatre in 1998.
The first movie shown by Boutin was Liar Liar starring Jim Carrey and fittingly, it was screened on May 15, 1997, which was opening night for this year.
The drive-in theatre has provided entertainment for scores of movie buffs as well as for the Boutins. Titanic was one movie that drew a huge crowd; Boutin brought his 26-foot sailboat and parked it by the marquis sign for added effect.
Another memorable incident – which takes place at drive-in movies everywhere, as anyone would know that has patronized the outdoor theatres – involved hiding in the trunk. On this particular night a brown sedan stopped a few miles north of the drive in, unknowingly in the view of a local farmer, who watched the alleged moviegoers pile into the trunk, leaving only the driver visible to negotiate the box office. Boutin received a call from the farmer and when the brown sedan pulled up the driver was informed that it was trunk check night at the theatre and all wound up being happy paying customers.
As well, drive-in movie-goers had been known to hide others things in the trunk, namely cases of beer. In Saskatchewan it is illegal to consume these refreshments in a motor vehicle and on many nights an effort had to be made to calm the moviegoers and curb the partying customers.
After all this was a tradition in the province to load up the vehicle and make a night out at the movies.
The drive-in movie business has seen many changes, from fixed speakers that hung on the window, carbon arc projectors which you had to be licensed and certified to run, to the new modern projectors, which provide a digital quality picture for the viewer.
The big change, of course, for this season is the COVID-19 pandemic, making opening to the public another challenge in itself. The venue will only be open to a portion of as many vehicles to maintain physical distancing, and each spot will be numbered. There have also been changes to their concession and washrooms.
Boutin was expecting a full house again; the nostalgia of the drive-in theatre with the pandemic having kept people at home. He has had inquiries from all over the province, with people wanting to attend this very special weekend for the Prairie Dog Drive In Theatre.