Russ Gourluck’s book “Silver Screens on the Prairie: An Illustrated History of Motion Picture Theatres in Manitoba.” (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Wasagaming’s Park Theatre is among the Westman theatres included in Russ Gourluck’s book “Silver Screens on the Prairie: An Illustrated History of Motion Picture Theatres in Manitoba.” (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Brandon’s Lucky Star Drive-In is among the Westman theatres included in Russ Gourluck’s book “Silver Screens on the Prairie: An Illustrated History of Motion Picture Theatres in Manitoba.” (FILE PHOTO)
When Russ Gourluck set out to write about the rich history of theatres within the province, his speculation that they were the heart of many communities quickly proved true.
"I wanted to write about movie theatres because for most people in the province they have all kinds of wonderful memories of going to theatres growing up when they were kids," Gourluck said about his newest book titled "Silver Screens on the Prairie: An Illustrated History of Motion Picture Theatres in Manitoba."
"People didn’t just go to see a movie, the movie was almost incidental," Gourluck said. "They went because it was a gathering place and almost a community centre."
From a first date to a family outing, going to the theatre is a common experience that most Manitobans share.
In the 1950s and ’60s, when television hit the market and became popular, most theatres lost a significant amount of business, according to Gourluck.
"Television had a phenomenal impact on the theatre industry," Gourluck said. "Once TV came along people stopped going to the theatre."
In some cases, Gourluck said theatres were running at a loss, but local merchants would often subsidize the cost of the film rental in order to get rural residents into the community.
"People would come to town and to go to the theatre and while they were there they would do their shopping so it really improved business," he said.
Gourluck said that often the beer parlors were full of husbands and fathers whose families were watching a film at the local theatre.
Throughout his research, Gourluck spoke to more than 150 people involved with theatres in the province, chronicling theatres in Westman such as the Lyric Theatre in Boissevain, Palace Theatre in Carberry, Park Drive-In in Dauphin, Gladstone Opera House, Gaiety Theatre in Glenboro, Shamrock Drive-In in Killarney, Roxy Theatre in Neepawa and many more.
According to Gourluck, in 1954 there were 179 single-screen theatres in the province compared to just 28 in 2012 as most theatres have been replaced by large multiplexes in urban environments.
In one story, the book details how Brandon theatres competed for eyes as one theatre charged a nickel and three potatoes — the potatoes were donated to the Citizen’s Welfare League — for a Saturday matinee.
During the price war, theatres offered everything from free candy and soft drinks for children, free dinnerware and one theatre even offered one lucky child a Shetland pony.
In another story, a long-serving projectionist turned his life savings into his dream of owning a theatre, only to have the venture end poorly.
"He bought a drive-in and an indoor theatre and within a year he was personally bankrupt," Gourluck said.
And although the book may centre around the theatre, it’s really about the people and experiences that are shared in the setting.
"The book isn’t about buildings, it is really about people and some of the things that happened in the theatres and what those theatres meant to them in that community," Gourluck said.
"There is a lot of nostalgia and a lot of memories."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 13, 2012