Local movie house enjoys 57 years of business
Roy Evans came to Slave Lake in 1946. He was sent here from Edson by Alberta Forestry and didn’t know anyone. As most people did back then, Roy took in the picture shows for entertainment. For them, it was night out.
“Every little town the size of Slave Lake had a theatre in those days because it was a big deal to go to a show. Everybody used to go to the shows and they were busier then than they are now. For towns that didn’t have a theatre, a guy would come once a week and set up in the Legion hall or something like that. Naturally, not knowing anybody, I went to the shows.”
Roy became friends with a fellow that operated a six-town movie circuit. Using a portable projector and power plant, he brought movies to Slave Lake and the surrounding communities. In Slave Lake, movies were shown in the Legion hall.
“It turned out the guy running the shows was an electrician and mechanically inclined, much the same as I was, and we got to talking. We became friends and I went with to Canyon Creek, Kinuso, Joussard, Fawcett Lake lumber camp, and Chisholm mills when I had a chance. He eventually got married and his wife told him, ‘None of this horsing around, going from town to town every night. It’s time you settled down.’
Roy says, that to save his marriage, his friend settled in Chisholm and left Slave Lake for Roy. They shipped the projector and power plant between them. That was how Roy got started in the movie business. He showed movies at the Legion for a few years but a problem over the concession forced Roy to make a change. Concerned about the mess left behind after a show, the Legion was reconsidering hosting Roy.
“It came down to arguing with them (the Legion) or building one (a theatre). I went to the theatre inspector to build a little projection booth in the hall. He told me, ‘You pay them enough rent to have almost paid for what the hall is worth. Why don’t you get a few bucks together and build your own?’ That’s what we did.
Roy bought a piece of land off Charlie Schurter in the early ‘50s for $125 and built a small wooden theatre. It was small but did a brisk business. Things stayed that way until lumberyards moved into what is now Mitsue Industrial Park. His theatre was still flush with customers so Roy made the decision to expand his business.
“Business was still very good at that time because TV still hadn’t taken hold. All you could get was CBC and not too good. TV was nothing at the time and going to the show was a big deal. So, I built a cement block around and over the old one. The Rex had 444 seats when we opened it.”
The theatre stretched all to the back entrance of Potpourri Mall and business was good. Soon, TV signals improved and other forms of entertainment began showing up. Twice, Roy had scaled The Rex down - first to 350 seats and then to 250. His family doesn’t depend on its revenue for support and the start-up fees have long been paid off. That is why The Rex is still in business.
“The movie industry is not in good shape. I thought (The Rex) would be broke by now and at this point, it’s like we have it and we’re stuck with it. We may as well keep running it as long our health is good.”
At just $5.50 for an adult admission, The Rex charges less than half of what Silver City (or most any large multiplex) does. According to Roy, most of what multiplexes charge goes to pay for rent and licensing fees.
“The only money made anywhere now is at the concession. Cineplex (Odeon) went broke a couple of three years ago. They restructured and got going again, but it’s a hard business now. Chains that own a lot of screens can get by because they make up advertising packages with large companies. But the small independent guy, there’s no way he can make a deal with Telus or something like that.”
Until the industry goes completely digital or until someone builds a multiplex in Slave Lake, Roy will keep showing films for what he says is the lowest admission price in the province. The Rex still has good days. Shrek the Third and Spiderman 3 saw the theatre almost full. Maybe Roy will celebrate 60 years in the movie business.
“You never know. I don’t think a new, modern movie theatre would survive in Slave Lake but I certainly couldn’t compete with it.”
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