The Very Beginning
In 1905, during the early days of show business in the Town of Forest, the Rumford family consisting of Floyd, Marty, and Tommy showed the first moving pictures. This was done at the old town hall, which was beside the Carnegie building on Main Street North and was projected from a metal booth within the town hall gallery. The building was located beside the town bakery, which was also owned by the Rumfords. George A. Lundy, who was a Rumford friend, originally started out with Floyd Rumford but sold his share out to the others a few years later. Floyd, who was known as ‘Toby’ to his friends, hooked up a generator to the back wheel of an old Ford car to a ‘Kineto’ brand all brass motion picture projector which had been imported from England. The wheel of the car was rigged up in such a way that the car was slid backwards where the wheel touched a steel pulley and this in turn caused the generator to operate. With this in place he was able to show silent moving picture films at the town hall gallery, and at the old curling rink which was located near where the United Church stands today. He was also known to show some movies out near the lake. On April 13, 1917 the Rumford brothers purchased a piece of property in Forest on what was then known as Front Street, which is now 24 King Street West, The Kiwanis Kineto Theatre.
The Building at 24 King
To give you an idea as to what this building has been used for, lets start at the beginning. On May 26, 1836 the Crown surrendered to surveyor Timothy Resseguie the land in which the theatre now stands upon. On March 8, 1859 Resseguie sold the land to William Bradley who build a frame building on the land and started a harness shop. On September 10, 1870 Bradley sold the building to William and Charles Munroe for $155, who were merchants from Parkhill. The Munroe’s tore down Bradley’s building and built a two story brick building instead. In the downstairs they had a feed shop and on the second floor they had a men’s clothing store. In 1890 William Munroe died and as a result, his estate and Charles Munroe sold the building to Bosanquet School teacher Robert Boal for $146 on May 29, 1891. Boal in turn put a third story onto the building and used the first floor as a feed, clothing and general store. He then used the second floor as a shoe store. It is believed that he used the third floor as an apartment as he installed a walnut spiral staircase from the second to the third floor. Boal of course sold the building to the Rumfords in 1917 for $2100. The price increase at that time was due to the First World War and its effects. The Rumfords converted the building into the first permanent movie house for the town of Forest. They called it The Kineto Theatre and played black and white shows there every night except Sunday nights and with Saturday nights drawing the largest crowds. Marty and Floyd were the projectionists while Tommy was the musician and played the drums. A foot pedal powered projector was used with a carbon arc for the light. There were usually two shows on Saturday nights to accommodate the large crowds, which packed the theatre seats. These were silent movies which later had words enscripted across the bottom. Tom Rumford with the assistance of some of the Rumford friends performed some musical background for these shows. Some of these friends were Jack Burk, Miller McPherson, and Dave Livingston who were all pianists. Sounds such as horse’s hooves, incoming trains and crashes were played out by these musicians to add to the excitement of the film.
The Early Years
Since first moving to this location and on into the late 1930’s the shows consisted of three main parts. The first part was the main show, which lasted for about one hour. This consisted of the beginning, the story, and its ending with no continuation or sequel. The second part was known as the short show, which was a comedy with actors such as Charlie Chaplan and Fatty Arbuckle. The third part was known as the serial part, which kept moviegoers coming back week after week as it ended with cliffhangers for 3-4 weeks in a row. An example of these cliffhangers would consist of the last scene showing a woman tied to a set of railroad tracks with the train coming or someone actually hanging from a cliff. Between each one of these segments would be a short period of advertising. These shows usually lasted about two hours each. Some of the famous actors and actresses then were John Wayne and Pearl White. These shows cost moviegoers under the age of sixteen, 15 cents per show. Those over sixteen were charged 25 cents. Another 10 cents would usually cover the cost of a drink and some chips. The theatre was also a location used by travelling bands. A stage, which has since been replaced, was at the front of the theatre and travelling shows were put on there during the week. There were even barbershop quartets performing there from time to time. In 1938 the Rumfords doubled the seating capacity of the theatre by extending the building to the north and building into the vacant land that was situated there. At this time they also added on the balcony which is still in place today.
Wartime and Residents
During the 1940’s silent movies began to be phased out and replaced with movies with sound. Famous actors of the day were Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Randolph Scott. The Rumfords were the first people in Forest to have air conditioning installed for their patrons. They would have a block of ice situated near the theatres ventilation system and have a fan blowing the cold air throughout the system. They would get the ice from the lake during the winter and store it in barns under heavy layers of sawdust to keep it during the summer. This was still prior to even Television days. During the war years the local moviegoers would be kept up to date on the status of the second world war as there would be 5-10 minutes of film footage every Saturday night on the wars status. At the end of each movie the National Anthem was played. That being God save the King prior to the war and then ‘O Canada’ after the war. The three floors of the building were all actively being used during this time period. The main floor of course was used as the theatre. The second floor was used by Doctor Walter who was the local dentist and had his office there. Then that brings us to the third floor. It was here during the later 1920’s to the early 1930’s that a man by the name of George ‘Bum’ Harvey was alleged to have lived. Not much was known about him but it has been said that he was a well-educated man, very artistic and thought to have been a lawyer’s assistant. He was fluent in many languages and believed to have been of European descent. He is responsible for painting the sailboat picture which hangs in the theatre today while Tommy Rumford is responsible for painting the picture across from it. Harvey was also known to keep the patrons in line if any disturbances were to occur. The theatre was also used by the Forest High School for their commencement exercises. A young girl by the name of Winnie McColl became well known throughout the area for her singing on the stage of the Kineto Theatre. She is alleged to have sung numerous times during intermissions of shows and at special events.
Transition to the Kiwanis Club
The Rumfords operated the projector themselves for several years and also employed the help of local resident Ed McKellar who performed his duties for approximately 30 years. After Floyd Rumford’s passing away in 1966 the theatres operation was taken over by his son Grant. Grant operated the theatre until 1976 when he sold it on February 1, 1977 to the Kiwanis Club of Forest for $18,000 who still own and operate it as a non profit venture. At the time of its sale in 1977 it was believed to be only 1 of 20 small town independently owned theatres left in Canada. The shows were held on the weekends only and they started at 8:30 p.m. Due to falling ticket sales in 1981 the 27-member club at that time decided to make several major renovations to upgrade and enhance the theatres appearance. They decided to shut down the theatre at the beginning of April 1981 to carry out the renovations. The members at that time were Charlie Woodward, William (Bill) Kelly, Ted Boomer, Ernest (Jr.) Butt, Dick Vankodeuberg, Jerry Elder, Virgil Cooper, Bill Kelly Jr., Mike Baker, Robert Woodward, Harvey Collins, Garry McLeish, Ronn Dodge, Ross Steadman, Gary Zimmerman, Marvin McGregor, Ron Johnson, Junior Rogers, Steve Crowe, John Voytko, Eugene Butt, Larry Mansfield, Roger Woods, Gilbert Deschutter, Rick Lean, Carman Butler and Larry Parker.
A total of $65,000 cash was raised through club-sponsored fundraisers, other service clubs, private donations, and other community groups. A Wintario grant of $18,000 was also received and used to cover the cost of the renovations. A value of approximately $15,000 was received in materials from companies in Forest and Sarnia. Wellington Brothers Construction were hired as the main contractors and started work on May 11, 1981. These renovations included new wiring, seats, ceiling, plumbing, washroom, furnace, heating, ticket booth, and concession booth. Much of the work was done by the members themselves as they were responsible for installing the seats, installing a new layer of cement for the seats, digging out the basement, painting, drywalling, and numerous other jobs.
The renovations were completed ahead of schedule and the re-opening show on June 25, 1981 was Ordinary People starring Mary Tyler Moore. Tickets at that time sold for $3 for adults. Local politicians conducted the official opening on November 22 1981. On hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony were Lambton MPP Lorne Henderson, Forest Mayor Ronn Dodge and Middlesex MPP Ralph Ferguson. A Bluegrass Country and Western Concert was put on for those attending. With the theatre being the largest project ever undertaken by the Kiwanis Club of Forest it was deemed to be used as a non profit venture but as a service to the community and a place where parents could take their children to still see family shows. It is still operated to this day with that idea in place. Ticket prices are still less that they are in the larger cinemas and it is still operated by people who volunteer their time to ensure that it runs efficiently.
2012 Digital Upgrade
It was announced by the studio distributors that 35mm film would no longer be available for the distribution of major motion pictures. This posed a legitimate threat to the Kineto’s continued operation as a non-profit. In 2011 the club undertook a significant fundraising campaign to replace the projection equipment which had served us so well over the years. We reached out to the community and were happily surprised by the outpour of financial support. We also received a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation as part of this project. Together our community was able to achieve amazing results and the renovations included a new screen, new acoustic tiling, updated sound equipment, an aluminum roof on the awning, a digital marquee, as well as a digital projection unit with 3D capabilities. A plaque now hangs in the theatre recognizing the donations of some of the many individuals and corporations which helped our community achieve this goal. The Kineto is now setup to live on for future generations to enjoy.
The Forest Kiwanis Club
The Kiwanis Club of Forest offsets the cost of operating the theatre through other community fund raisers such as Bingos, Calendar Draw Sales, Pancake Breakfasts, Advertising Sales, Strawberry Social, Christmas Tree sales, and various other events. The Club is also responsible for other service projects that are brought to you every year. Those being the maintenance of Whyte Park, Children’s Bicycle Safety Rodeo, Santa Claus Parade, Kiwanis Express Train Float, Delivery of free birthday cakes to seniors, Provide Funding to Children’s Hospital, Co-sponsor of Forest Contact House, Forest Juvenile Hockey, Forest Minor Hockey Atom ‘A’ team, North Lambton S.S. Reach for the Top Team, Babysitting course, School Awards, Kite Festival, Girls Bantam Ball Team and the club donates funding to local youth groups and other worthwhile causes. Pictures of current Kiwanis Members are on display in the lobby of the Theatre. These are members of the Forest community responsible for the continuing success of the Kiwanis Club of Forest. They are current members in good standing and some will be your floorwalkers for the show when you attend. These are the ones who are responsible for ensuring that you and your family enjoy a pleasant evening at the show and they are proud to serve your community. The club utilizes the basement of this facility for its meetings and the Theatre and meeting room are available for rentals to other groups. We hope this article has informed you of the history of one of the oldest standing buildings in the town of Forest. If you are interested in a tour of this building or have any other questions about it success, please feel free to contact any one of the members of the Kiwanis Club of Forest and they will be happy to discuss the theatre with you.
Written by Public Relations Chairman Murray Finch