Yvon Myner has been bringing a bit of Hollywood to Grenville for 50 years.
On January 1, Myner celebrated 50 years as owner and operator of Cinémas Laurentiens, located on Rue Principale in the village.
Back in 1969, Myner was looking for a career change and wanted the independence of having his own business. When he found out that the cinema was for sale, he decided to buy it. Always close to their work, he and his wife Danielle Lacasse live in a cozy apartment above the cinema.
Cinémas Laurentiens is the only movie theatre in the area between Montréal and Ottawa-Gatineau and is one of 32 independently owned and operated theatres in Québec. The rest are owned by big chains like Cineplex.
In 1973, Myner purchased the now-closed cinema in Lachute, which he owned and operated until 1988.
Construction of a second cinema in the Grenville building began in 1979; that cinema opened in 1980. Other renovations at that time included the orange, red, and brown décor of the lobby and snack bar area, which remain today. Also, during the 1980’s, Lacasse became a major contributor and director of operations in the business. Myner’s other business partner, Philippe Pharand, left the cinema in 1990.
Another major renovation took place in 2012. Traditional 35-millimetre film was replaced with a new digital projection system and Dolby sound system. The cinemas were remodeled with new acoustic paneling, seats, and screens as well.
“That was a life-saver for business survival,” Myner said about the 2012 improvements.
The projection system is fully automated. Lacasse can now start a film remotely using her mobile phone.
“We could be in Florida and start the movie from there,” she said.
The cinema has seven employees who work behind the snack bar, selling tickets, and keeping the facility clean.
Challenges over the past 50 years included high interest rates in the 1980s and the closure of industrial plants in Hawkesbury which led to fewer customers having money to come and see movies. Home video also hit the theatre business hard. Myner said 40 per cent of the cinemas in Québec closed because of it.
The cost for theatres to rent films has increased over the years too. Cinémas Laurentiens always runs movies that are current and in their first run. Unlike some theatres that use booking agents, Myner and Lacasse book directly with the movie studios.
It’s an understatement to say that a lot of films have been shown at the Grenville cinemas over the past 50 years. Some of the most memorable ones included Disney’s Love Bug series with Herbie — the life-like Volkswagen, the 1970 plane-crash hit Airport, Steven Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and Titanic, which was shown daily for 17 weeks in 1998, and Avatar in 2009.
Cinémas Laurentiens has shown films in French and English as long as Myner has owned the business. That includes original French versions of Québecois films, American films dubbed into French, and original English versions of American films. Lacasse said that the French translations of American movies have improved considerably in recent years. They are now done in Québec featuring accents and words that better reflect Canadian French than when they were dubbed in France.
Some of the notable Québecois productions shown in Grenville over the past 50 years include Deux femmes, Séraphin, and Les Boys.
The type of audience at the cinema has changed over the years due to home video and the internet. Lacasse said most customers are now older, but many are parents and grandparents who bring children to see a film.
“We still have families coming in,” she said.
Lacasse has been completely running the cinema for nearly a year since Myner was diagnosed with cancer. He has been receiving treatment since May 2019 and his condition is improving.
“The outlook is very good,” said Myner.
Due to health and the amount of time and effort it takes to run an independent cinema, Myner is open to selling the business to any buyer who is willing to take over Cinémas Laurentiens and continue to operate it.
Myner said that whoever takes over must be willing to work hard, though.
“Let me tell you, it’s not easy, you have to have experience to go into the cinema business,” he said.