Alberta Health Services has called it a wrap on impromptu drive-in movies in a hamlet looking to pass the time during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Chris Scott, owner of the Whistle Stop Café in Mirror, said he’d been showing three or four films per week to the delight of area residents.
“Our dining room got closed down, and in a town of 500 people with two cafes, we’re kind of limited in what we can do in town anyway,” he said.
“What I started seeing was people looking for and craving something to do to get them out of their houses. I just started thinking what could we do to follow the rules and get people out of their homes, doing something with their families, and just get a little bit of normal life back?”
Mr. Scott decided to hold free drive-in movies in the cafe’s parking lot using a six-metre-wide screen.
“The first few times it was a small amount of people, maybe five, six cars, maybe seven cars,” he said. “But everyone who showed up, they were raving about it and everyone was so appreciative and from there it just grew and grew.”
Mr. Scott said the cafe did its best to meet all required health regulations, including physical distancing, as the movie nights became more popular.
“We’ve actually hired more people and increased our own hours so we can keep up with all the extra cleaning,” he said.
“All I had to do was just let people know when they came in the café that they were supposed to stay in their cars and maintain their social distancing. People pretty much followed the rules on their own.”
Mr. Scott estimates about 200 people attended the most recent drive-in movie last Saturday.
He said he realized he was taking a risk with Alberta Health Services the bigger the event grew.
Ian Plischke, a public health inspector with the agency in Red Deer, Alta., wrote a letter to municipalities in the central zone on Monday.
He said AHS understands Mr. Scott meant no harm.
“Although there is no ill intent … these types of events do not align with the overall objectives outlined in the (chief medical officer of health’s) order(s), and they are counterproductive in our interest of protecting public health,” Mr. Plischke wrote.
The decision not to allow the drive-in movies was not taken lightly, he said.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical health officer, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of limiting gatherings to no more than 15 and of practising physical distancing.
Alberta Health Services said its environmental public health inspectors are assessing and providing recommendations for drive-in movies on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Scott hopes to continue drive-in movie nights once conditions allow.
“My objective, of course, is to get back to business as usual and make sure that we keep the doors open here and have a service for the community and surrounding communities.”
Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.