The old Lake Theatre

Long before the invention of videos, television movie channels or cinemas, one could enjoy an evening or Saturday afternoon at the movies.

The construction of the Lake Theatre was a sign of great progress in the small community of Lake Cowichan when it was built. In later years it sat empty until it was renovated into the apartment building that today borders the Tipton Outboards business on North Shore Road.

The construction of the Lake Theatre was a sign of great progress in the small community of Lake Cowichan when it was built. In later years it sat empty until it was renovated into the apartment building that today borders the Tipton Outboards business on North Shore Road.

There was a time, in years past, when movies were shown to the public at various community halls, boarding houses, church halls and theatres around Lake communities.

Long before the invention of videos, television movie channels or big multiplex cinemas, one could enjoy an evening or Saturday afternoon at the movies. “Going to the show,” as it was called at the time, was a big event for everyone.

Adults, families and children of all ages would eagerly await the weekly newspaper announcement of the upcoming show.

Friday and Saturday nights were the most popular times. Children could take in the Saturday afternoon matinee while their parents often chose to attend on Saturday evening. Friday night was [unofficially] the choice for teenagers. A quarter would get you in and buy a bag of penny candy to boot.

In 1927, the very first movie (or silent moving picture as they were then called) was shown to an appreciative audience in the Lake Cowichan area.

With no theatre building here at that time, it was shown at Rundquist’s Boarding House, which was located at the bottom of the hill below today’s St. Louis de Montfort Catholic Church. A local lady, Mrs. Morley, accompanied the silent picture on the piano while the audience sat on hard benches, eyes glued to the portable screen.

A few years later, Clarence Whittingham of Youbou started showing movies in outlying logging camps around the lake and in 1935 showed the first talkie called Red Hot Wheels.  It was shown in Lake Cowichan’s original community hall — now the site of the present day seniors’ centre — and was filled to capacity at each showing.

The movies presented were well received by the community, as it was a treat for the locals to be able to spend a night out without heading to Duncan. Televisions were at that time unheard of, so the shows were popular events.

In 1944, Industrial Timber Mills built a small architecturally designed theatre in Youbou. Called the Woodland Theatre, it featured plush wine coloured upholstered theatre seats with matching suede drapes that hung on either side of the stage. The walls were covered in fine wood panels decked with period sconces. It was a thrill indeed, to watch movies like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and other musicals and family type movies.  The Woodland, which operated until 1950, closed when a theatre was built in Lake Cowichan.

Clarence Whittingham and his father-in-law Ernie Proteau who cut all the lumber used from beach-combed logs built the new Lake Theatre. The new theatre was located on North Shore Road just a few steps from the Riverside Inn.

Whittingham and his business partner Allan Castley owned and operated the Lake Theatre for the next 20 years. They were constantly kept on their toes and earned every cent they made when each Friday evening boisterous teenagers whooped it up during the entire movie.

When the projector broke down, as it usually did, the theatre would immediately blacken. Everyone quickly ducked their heads so as not to get hit on the head by hard candy, which many of the boys invariably flung across the length and width of the theatre. If caught the culprits were kicked out right then and there and often barred from attending future shows. But, where there’s a will there’s a way. Many often managed to sneak right back in and continue raising cain resulting in their being booted out two to three more times in one evening!

The owners knew every kid and were hard to fool, so the culprits had to constantly think up new ways of sneaking back in undetected. Slipping in the side fire door exit was a possibility, although the two men were wise to it all.

If you were a preteen or teenager back in the 1950s or early 60s the theatre was the place to be. In fact, it was the ONLY place where one could have a little fun without parental supervision.