History of the 400 drive-In

By Claudio D'Intino

Many first dates took place at the 400 Drive-In. We can all remember how incredibly delicious the hotdogs, fries, candy floss or a large popcorn and coke would taste. Whether the middle of the summer or the cold of the winter, the show always went on.

Located on the southwest corner of Highway 7 and Highway 400, it opened July 22, 1954, with the movie White Witch Doctor starring Susan Hayward playing on a single screen. It was originally owned and operated by Nat Taylor’s 20th Century Theatre chain, eventually becoming part of Famous Players. In 1978, at a cost of $500,000, two screens were added. It had space for 1326 cars. It was closed in 1997, to make way for the Colussus movie theatre and IMAX. The phone number of the 400 Drive-In is the current phone number to contact the Colussus.

In his 2001 book, the Passion Pit: A Tribute to the Drive-In, Toronto photographer David W. Lewis drove 80,000 miles over four years. A limited gelatin silver print of the 400 drive-ins can be included with a purchase on his website. Laurence Jones of Local Film Cultures – Toronto writes in an essay about the Toronto Drive-In, “...in newspaper advertisements (Toronto Star 1969) children under the age of 12 were permitted free admission.” There was a play area and picnic area. At one time there was even an outdoor flea market on the grounds.

On the internet site Cinema Treasures an assistant manager from 1972 to 1992 gives a description of its setup.

“Old underground audio wires date back to the days of the speakers. Two wires get wrapped around the vehicle antenna. Eventually the system was scrapped and transmitters with rooftop antennae were installed.”

You tune into a specific FM station to hear the movie.

On Facebook and Cinema Treasures, people shared memories. Terry Sutton worked for an electrical company for 45 years and serviced the 400 drive-in from its opening and closing. Rosemary Bennett worked at the Snack Bar when it opened. One woman wrote about her parents working at two different drive-ins including the 400. Large groups of people would cram into vehicles.

A moviegoer told a story of hiding in the trunk just to sneak in. Another popular thing to do was to move a car to watch a second movie for free. There was the one story about blankets and pillows lying on the back window and trunk of the car.

Another memory was getting tons of free popcorn and other goodies, just because they knew two brothers that worked inside the snack bar. One thoughtless person wrapped the wire around the side mirror and not the speaker post, and caused major damage trying to leave.

There were police cars checking on any illegal activities and what was going on behind the foggy car windows. At one time, Harvey’s restaurant at Jane and 401 sponsored a 1957 Chevy race car. After eating, the boys would go to the rural street of Weston Road north of Finch or even Highway 400 to “drag race” north to the drive-in and beyond. At times, there was more comedy and drama away from the big screen.

Pass the popcorn please.