With the help of their community, Canadian Kiwanians renovate the town’s historic movie theater.
Story by Julie Saetre • Photos by Dax Melmer
Forest is the largest of five communities that make up the Municipality of Lambton Shores in Ontario, Canada. Situated along the shores of scenic Lake Huron, the communities are a haven for residents and visitors alike, who enjoy water sports, golfing, hiking, camping and other outdoor activities.
But those who live in Forest — the population is less than 3,000 — also treasure one of the town’s indoor attractions: the Kineto Theatre, owned and operated as a nonprofit by the Forest Kiwanis Club since 1977. The town’s love for the historic spot has been evident to those Kiwanians over the decades, most recently through a major renovation capital campaign challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Kineto has shown films since 1917, when the town’s well-known Rumford family purchased a building being used as a feed store and transformed it into Forest’s first permanent movie house.
Named after the all-brass Kineto motion picture projector once used by Floyd Rumford to show silent movies in the town hall gallery and at the local curling rink, the theater quickly became the place to be in Forest. Eager audiences packed the seats every night but Sunday, when the theater was dark. Floyd and his brother Marty served as projectionists; their sibling Tom joined with friends to accompany the films with live music and creative sound effects.
As the years went by, the movies evolved into “talkies.” In the 1940s, the ever-innovative Rumford brothers were the first Forest business owners to offer air-conditioning, created by a fan blowing air over a block of ice and into the theater’s ventilation system.
After Floyd Rumford died in 1966, his son took over theater operations for a decade, then decided to sell.
“When the Rumfords decided that they were cashing in, one of the town residents contacted a member of the Kiwanis club and said, ‘Why don’t you guys buy that building and rent it yourselves?’” says Glen Starkey, a Forest Kiwanian and member of the club’s renovation committee. “So they went ahead with it.”
The Forest club purchased the Kineto in February 1977 for CA$18,000. A few years later, members launched a fundraising campaign for building renovations, and the town responded, giving nearly $100,000 in cash, grants and materials.
The club hired a general contractor, but members tackled much of the work themselves, including drywalling, painting, installing new seats (and the new layer of concrete they required) and digging out the basement to make way for a kitchen and washroom. When the renovation was complete, audiences enjoyed an enhanced experience thanks to a new ticket booth, ceiling, wiring, plumbing, furnace, concession stand and washroom.
Another upgrade became key in 2012, when The Walt Disney Studios and other major distributors announced they would no longer release movies on 35 mm film. For the theater to survive, a new projection system was needed. Again, the community responded.
“We raised that money within four months,” Starkey recalls. “I walked down the street, and people would run over and hand me money. You only realize the importance that the community places on this building when you say we need help.”
Donations and grant funds allowed the club to not only purchase a digital projection system for 2D and 3D movies, but also a new screen, sound equipment, acoustic tile and a digital marquee.
In 2018, club members turned their attention to the 1980’s-installed galley kitchen, which no longer met health regulations. In the past, club members had reached out to the owners of buildings on either side of the theater, hoping to purchase one, but had been turned down. So the club set out to work with the limited space they had.
“I walked down the street, and people would run over and hand me money. You only realize the importance that the community places on this building when you say we need help.”
“Then, when we were just about ready to go, we had our capital campaign materials ready, lo and behold, the owner of the shop next door contacted our president at the time and said, ‘I’m ready to sell,’” says Ruth Illman, also a club and renovation committee member.
What started as a capital campaign with a $140,000 goal for a kitchen renovation became something with many more options — and a much larger price tag. Now the club would be purchasing the adjacent flower shop and expanding the theater, with a fundraising goal of $1.4 million.
“Yes, we were taking a big chance,” Illman says, “but we saw how we were going to position this facility for the future and for the community and revitalize our little world downtown. The possibilities are endless.”
Club members considered what community needs they could meet with the expanded space and began making plans, writing grants and updating their capital campaign. And then the pandemic arrived, with its business interruptions and resulting budget disruptions. Even so, the Forest community still wanted to help. The club secured grants. It held a series of virtual fundraisers, including drive-in bingo games and online 50/50 draws. And in the end, says Kiwanian and renovation committee member Rick Stinchcombe, it wasn’t a question of what the club decided to do with the resulting funds.
“A better question to ask is: What haven’t we done?”
Today, where the flower shop once stood is a new lobby and concessions area, new washrooms (including one specifically for use by those who need accessible facilities) and a coffee bar. Downstairs, that galley kitchen has been upgraded to a gleaming commercial style ready to rent for special events held in the nearby completely renovated community room. The expanded movie auditorium now has accessible seating. Theater details include a new tin stamped ceiling, schoolhouse lights, cornices and flooring, all in the style of the Kineto’s opening era. Movie posters from the 1920s that were found in the Rumford family’s basement — used as insulation — were restored and displayed. Also added: a new heating/air conditioning system, ventilation system, electrical wiring, a fire suppression system and other safety features.
“The senior guy on (the contractor’s team) and I were reminiscing about how far we came and the things we did,” Stinchcombe says. “We actually can’t believe we’ve pulled it off.”
Illman adds, “We really want to stress the overwhelming response from our community. We can’t say that enough, how everybody has helped us out. If they couldn’t do it financially, they put in labor, whatever. It’s just been absolutely incredible.”
This story originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Kiwanis magazine.