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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 18, 2020
Before lights dimmed and images flickered across the silver screen, Gerard Gallant threaded reels of film through projectors.
When one reel had ended, he skillfully and seamlessly switched to the next while working in the dark of a small booth.
“You could never afford to lose concentration when doing this job. I was always nervous before a shift while hoping everything would work,” said Gallant, who never slipped up in his career, first at the Regent, and then 38-years at the Capitol Theatre, in Summerside.
Each reel of the film lasted 20 minutes.
“Near the finish of reel was a dot, and I would count these to 10 before switching to the next.”
Gallant began his career in the 1940s when there weren't television sets in every home.
Going to the movies for an American romantic drama such as Gone with the Wind or Casablanca was a whole community affair.
“There would be crowds of people lining up outside the (Regent) theatre (located on Summer Street), and they would pour out onto Water Street while waiting for doors to open,” said Gallant's wife, Florence, in reflection.
“Gone with the Wind starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh was my favourite movie. It had 13 reels of film that I had to change,” added Gallant.
It was a rich experience; the smell of buttery popcorn, the laughter and chatter of seeing familiar faces, the excitement as the lights dimmed, and curtains were rolled, said Gallant.
But in 2000, the curtain went down on the Capitol Theatre for the final time.
A modern multiplex cinema, running on digital, replaced the silent role of the projectionist.
“It was sad to see the changes in the presentation of the film, but people now enjoy it. I’ve seen several vehicles in the parking lot (130 Ryan Street),” said Gallant, now aged 86.
“You can’t stay stuck in the past, but you can remember.”
The Gallants make (history) boards that are displayed at the Summerside Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.
“We’ve been making these boards that highlight Summerside’s past for over 20 years,” said Florence of the boards that highlight the old theatres, more than 150 veterans, the railway and the Holman building.
“We want to preserve this past,” she said, now 85 years old and going blind.
The couple hopes a museum will soon be found to safeguard this treasured history.