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Belinda Yorke, manager of the Lyceum Theatre shows the new digital film system the theatre now uses.

By Tim Kalinowski

Theatre both live and on film has always been an important part of the fabric of Gull Lake.

The first theatre was built in the community in 1911, burning down in 1915. The community rebuilt, and the new theatre operated from 1915 to 1976 before burning down a second time. The community rebuilt again in 1977.

Since the rebuild, the 200-seat Gull Lake Lyceum Theatre has operated as a non-profit business run by the all volunteer Lyceum Theatre Community Cultural Cooperative. In 2012, the Lyceum faced its latest dilemma. Not a question of rebuilding after a fire this time, but no less of a threat to the continued existence of the theatre anyways— digital movies.

Traditional film was going the way of the dodo bird, and becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Blockbusters were already out on DVD before the 50 LB film canisters finally arrived at the Gull Lake Greyhound station. Attendance at the theatre was decreasing.

Still, the $100,000 price tag for a new digital, Real 3D theatre system was a steep cost for a non-profit, community-run movie theatre. For under $30, including tickets and concessions, a family of four could see a movie six nights a week in Gull Lake. It was the way the theatre had always run, and it was the way the theatre cooperative wanted it to continue. So they turned to the residents of Gull Lake and asked for support.

First the local Kinettes and the Royal Purple stepped forward to get the ball rolling. Followed by the History Book committee, the Elks, and dozens of other community organizations and businesses, and hundreds of individuals, in quick succession. School kids even threw in their loose change in a big popcorn bucket in the theatre lobby after every show to help raise the money.

Less than six months after kicking off the drive over $50,000 had been raised and the newly bought Real 3D digital system, including a digitally compatible movie screen and full-on Dolby digital surround

Gull Lake History Book Committee member and Gull Lake historian Doug Colter remembers the theatre’s early days.

sound speaker system, arrived in Gull Lake. The first digital Real 3D movie played at the Lyceum last July. A few months later the total had reached $60,000 and fundraising stalled. It was then the local business community, rallied by the South West Terminal, made one final push in early 2013— putting on a community benefit which raised the last $40,000 needed.

Monty Reich and Jeff Kirwan of South West Terminal (SWT) are both in their thirties. Reich is GM of Gull Lake SWT and Jeff Kirwan is the crop inputs manager. It was Kirwan who first came up with the idea of throwing a community fundraiser event.

“We are fortunate to have a community with a theatre,” states Kirwan. “To be able to come and show our support... You know, we could have donated money, but we thought if could donate some time and some effort it would maybe have a bigger kick. We wanted to create an event, and to create a team atmosphere at the Terminal.”

Reich says the most important thing a local business can do is find ways to engage the community and support the institutions which keep the community vital, growing and looking toward the future.

“Our objective is always to give back the communities where we operate. If you don’t support things like the Lyceum Theatre, they fall to the wayside. You’ve got to get behind them. In the end, we created an event and the community pitched in to give the money and everyone had fun,” says Reich.

Gull Lake mayor and theatre cooperative board member Blake Campbell says the all-out community push behind the Lyceum Theatre’s new digital system speaks to how important the theatre is to town residents and the southwest region in general.

“The movie theatre is one of the most important things we have which draws people from other communities to ours,” says Campbell. “I like to call it southwest Saskatchewan’s theatre. Everybody who sits on the theatre board sees the value of community, and the value of what the Theatre has to offer the community.”

Belinda Yorke moved to Gull Lake from Niagara Falls a few years ago. She became the Lyceum Theatre’s new


Jeff Kirwan and Monty Reich of South West Terminal (SWT) were big reasons why the theatre was able to raise enough money to keep the operation going.

manager last year. She loves being a part of such a valued institution in the community at this very special time in its history.

“This belongs to the community,” says Yorke. “Since putting in the new system we have seen an increase in our numbers. We are getting a lot more people coming in from all the surrounding communities. It costs us half the price to pay for movies than it used to. Our ticket and concession prices are all the same. It still costs only five dollars for an adult to see a show in Gull Lake. It’s just one dollar more for a 3D movie. It’s a small town theatre, but it’s a huge experience.”

One of the biggest community donors to the theatre was the Gull Lake History Book committee, which used proceeds from the centennial edition of its book to make a $20,000 donation. Committee member and respected local historian Doug Colter remembers seeing his first ever “Talkie” in Gull Lake in 1937.

“It was the dust bowl year and my Dad was visiting a friend in town with dust ammonia,” Colter remembers. “It was an English movie in colour with all these ladies dancing around in circles with big swishing dresses. I remember it to this day.”

Colter says the movie theatre is the one of the main institutions in the community which binds all the generations together.

“Everybody goes to the picture show,” states Colter. “Those people who volunteer their time and energy to that theatre are thinkers, and they don’t think only of themselves. They think of the future. I remember a school meeting when I was a kid when some big change was being discussed and this old fellow stands up and says: ‘I don’t know anything about it, but I’m a again’ it.’ He might as well not have said anything at all. That just means you don’t want to accept responsibility for the future.”

Colter says Gull Lake is fortunate to have a new generation who believes in the community as much as his generation did.

“This had to be done. If they hadn’t decided to go digital, we wouldn’t have a theatre here today.”

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