Wednesday, 20 January 2016
Movies at the Aurora Theatre
I grew up in Lac La Biche, Alberta. It’s a fairly small town, but has had a movie theatre for as long as I can remember. Every Saturday afternoon my younger brother (whom I shall refer to as “Shieky” from here on out) and I would take our wagon (a classic little red jobbie) and collect as many glass pop bottles as we could find in the neighbourhood. We’d count the empty bottles carefully, making sure we’d be able to make enough money from the returns to cover our admission and treats. Then we’d take them clinking away down the sidewalk to the local confectionary where we would trade them in for cash. Once we concluded our business with the shopkeeper it was on to the Aurora Theatre.
Walking in to the theatre was always a special thing for me. For as long as I can remember, the theatre was operated by a wonderful family from town. The Mom, Dad, and all their children each had their tasks and as regular theatre-goers we got to know them all well. The ticket booth was directly in front of the entryway doors with a small lobby leading to the washrooms on the right and importantly, the snack area to the left. Once we’d handed over our hard-earned bottle money and paid for our tickets, on we went to the snack area to pick out our treats. Even now I can hear the machine in the corner erupting with fresh hot popcorn, filling the whole building with its wonderful aroma. The trick was always to find the perfect snack – it had to be within our budget and had to last for as much of the movie as possible. As delicious as the popcorn might have been to eat, it would have been a rookie mistake to buy – there was no way we would risk filling up on it before scarfing down something with sugar. Row upon row of chocolate bars and candy to choose from - a Pep bar was okay, but a Crunchie could last for quite a bit longer. The ultimate for me was usually a box of Mackintosh’s Toffee. Sweet and chewy enough to yank the fillings directly out of my teeth – perfect!
With our refreshments in hand we would walk through the open curtains separating the lobby from the theatre and make our way down the steeply slanted wooden floors to our seats. Being the shortest two kids in town, the only way Shieky and I could be sure to see the movie was to sit in the first and second seat of the very front row. We had to crane our necks the whole time and couldn’t really see the entire screen that close up, but it was totally worth it.
We always arrived early (a by-product of our upbringing that I will no doubt regale you about in another blog), and took some time to look around and get comfortable before the show started. Each seat was made of a dark coloured wood with armrests and cloth covered cushions. The ceiling was very high with a large ornate medallion surrounding the main light fixture. The walls had been renovated in the mid 70’s and sported sections of green shag carpet and wooden accents painted orange. In front there was a stage, like you might see in a school gymnasium, and a set of very heavy dark green velvet curtains. I’m not sure, but I think there was music playing softly in the background while the seats filled. Suddenly the lights would dim, one of the theatre family members would close the lobby curtains, and a hush would come over everyone as the heavy curtains would gracefully retract revealing the screen. The opening cartoon would start and Shieky and I were definitely in our happy place.
Going to the movies in a small local theatre has its own charm. If you listened during a quiet part of the movie, you could hear the film clicking through the projector in the booth upstairs. And if you looked up you could see the beam of light from the projector streaming down to the screen. On the rare occasion when the picture was out of focus, or the reel had emptied, someone from the audience would call out the family member’s name to let him know it was time to switch the reels or make an adjustment. Every year for Christmas that wonderfully generous family would show a selected movie to all the school children in the area for free. Not only did I get to enjoy this lovely gift, but 20+ years later, so did my children.
I think I saw every Saturday matinee shown at the Aurora theatre in the 70’s, instilling in me a lifelong love of movies. To this day watching movies is still a special thing. My husband and I have visited and enjoyed movie theatres all over the world and we usually watch one or two movies a week at home. It’s a long way from selling bottles to pay for our admission and treats, but it’s been and continues to be one of my favourite things.