The Kineto Theatre in Forest has been entertaining audiences for more than a century thanks to Toby Rumford, the son of a local family that owned a bakeshop. He joined with George Lundy during 1905 to show the first silent movies from a metal booth in the gallery of the Forest Town Hall. In 1977, ownership of the Kineto Theatre was passed over to the Forest Kiwanis Club.
Let’s listen in on a conversation during the 1970s between two older men reminiscing about the Kineto.
“So it’s true, John. The Kineto has been sold to the Kiwanis club.”
“Yup, at least that’s what Grant Rumford told me on my way over here.”
John Smith and Eric Johnson were seated in the front booth of a restaurant in the town of Forest. Since both of them retired about two years ago, they had met here each morning Monday to Friday for a cup of coffee and time to reminisce.
“Well Eric, I’ll bet Grant is happy about that. I don’t think he ever really wanted to run the theater, never wanted to be in show business as he called it. He always said that it was a career he never really wanted, but fell into because he was the son of cinema pioneer Floyd Rumford and because the Kineto Theatre was such an important part of Forest.
“You’re so right, John. You weren’t here in Forest back then. I may have trouble now remembering things that happened yesterday, but I sure do remember when that first moving picture was shown here in town. Let’s see. That was 1905. I would only have been about seven years old at the time but I remember my father taking me to the town hall, which at that time was right next to the Carnegie Library.
“I don’t think I quite understood just how the thing worked but I do remember being so amazed when I saw those first moving pictures being projected on a wall from a metal booth in the town hall. My father explained to me that Floyd had something new, imported all the way from England. He said it was called a Kineto motion picture projector and he hooked it up to a generator that was powered by his new Ford automobile. As I understand it, that was the first-ever motion picture shown in this part of Ontario.
“The wheel of the car was rigged up so that the car would slide backwards until the wheel touched a steel pulley and that would cause the generator to operate. With this in place he was able to show silent moving picture films at the town hall gallery, and sometimes even at the old curling rink.
As Eric paused to take a sip of his coffee, John interjected “I have heard that Rumford even showed his pictures outside and at least once showed them at night up on the beach along Lake Huron.”
“That’s right.” Eric replied. “Perhaps you could call it the first drive-in movie in Ontario. In those days before we had electricity, the power to operate the Kineto projector was provided by a generator operating from the back wheel of an old Ford model T. Their equipment was mobile, so they could take it anywhere as long as they had their automobile there to power the generator. So they could even go to the lake and present open air showings by the beach.”
“Well, I can guess that the name for the theater came from the Kineto projector they first used. But why was the projector called a Kineto?”
“Well, John, I remember asking Floyd that very same question a few years later. I guess I was a teenager by then. He told me that one of Thomas Edison’s inventions was something called a kinetoscope. It was a machine into which a person could look in and view a series of images being played at a speed that produced an illusion of motion. Floyd explained to me that “kineto” means motion and “scope” means to watch. That’s how the theater got its name.
“Now, Grant continued to show a few motion pictures each year until 1917 in the town hall. It was in that year that he moved to a permanent home in the same building the Kineto is still in to this day. At first he worked with George Lundry, but later formed a partnership with his own brothers Tom and Marshall, two talented musicians who proved very handy in those days before the movies had any sound, before the advent of talking pictures. In those days, Tom Rumford was the sound effects man. While the picture was showing, they would play a player piano roll for atmosphere, as Floyd would say. At the right time on the piano roll, his brothers could produce a thunder storm or a train wreck on their instruments. At times, some of his friends, people like Jack Burk, Miller McPherson and David Livingstone, would play the piano.
Singers like Winnie McColl, then 12 years old, belted out hits like “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbin’ Along” as the spotlights flashed on them.
“The Kineto also featured vaudeville shows, plays and mind readers like the famous Professor Gladstone in those early days. It was also an ideal place for early commencement exercises for our very own Forest High School.
“Now, I told you earlier about shows on the beach. But Floyd would try anything with his Kineto projector. Did you know that he staged one of the first drive-in movies up at Lake Valley Grove during the summer of 1919. Some 2,000 people swooned at a community picnic as Douglas Fairbanks swept across the screen.”
Once again, Eric paused to take another sip of his now cold coffee before continuing. “The Kineto involved the whole family. Grant and his brother Ted would sell tickets and patrol the theatre looking for troublemakers. But everyone was so enthralled they had little to do.
“Following the war, Grant went into partnership with his father and ran the business for Floyd until his death a few years ago. I remember, even as a child, that Floyd’s whole face would light up when anyone asked about the Kineto. He really loved his part in show business. He often told my father that he would go down to Toronto several times a year to book films, and would spend hours in pitched battles with the movie house agents getting the best rental prices he could bargain for.
“Eventually sound was added to the motion pictures. Then technicolour. You know, I was just remembering that the Kineto early on let it be known that their theatre was the place to be on a hot day or night. They had air conditioning in the theatre. Not real air conditioning, you know. I remember they would place a block of ice near the theatre’s ventilation system with a fan blowing the cold air through the ventiliation system. The blocks of ice they used were cut from Lake Huron during the winter and stored under heavy layers of sawdust to keep until the next summer. In the days before air-conditioned buildings, this made going to the Kineto Theatre a popular pastime during hot weather.”
As Eric stopped talking, he waved to Hazel, the waitress, who came over and refilled their coffee cups. When she asked if they wanted anything else, both men shook their heads and began to sip their now hot coffee.
“John,” Eric began “by the late 1930s, the Kineto would first show the main picture, usually about an hour, always with a beginning, a middle and an end, not leaving you hanging for a sequel, like so many shows today, especially on TV. Next there would be a short show, usually a comedy featuring real funny-men like Charlie Chaplin or Fatty Arbuckle. Then there would be a part of a serial, something that would keep show patrons coming back week after week. I can remember some that would last for many weeks since they always left the hero or heroine, sometimes both, hanging from a cliff or strapped to railway tracks or something like that. Between these segments, there would be advertising.
“So for about two hours a week, the Kineto offered a chance to forget about every-day life and be excited by people like John Wayne and Pearl White. Until I turned 16, it only cost me 15 cents each time. Once I reached sixteen, the price went up to 25 cents. For another dime, we could enjoy a pop and potato chips.
“By the forties, the movies had sound added. We could enjoy my favourites, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Randolph Scott. During the war years, there would be five to ten minutes of footage to keep us up to date about what was happening in Europe and Japan.”
Then, as Eric paused again, John looked at his pocket watch and commented “How time flies, Eric. I had better be on my way. My wife will have lunch on the table in about ten minutes.”
As John left the restaurant, he looked back and saw Eric sitting, his head resting in the palms of his hands, a smile on his face, obviously remembering the glory days of the Kineto Theatre.
Notes from the Author
In 1905, Toby Rumford, the son of a local family that owned a bakeshop, joined with George A. Lundy to show the first silent movies from a metal booth in the gallery of the Forest Town Hall. In those days before electricity, their power was provided by a generator operating from the back wheel of an old Ford car. Their equipment was mobile, so they also presented open air showings by the lake. In 1917, perhaps Lambton’s first drive in theatre in more ways than one. Toby Rumford and his two brothers bought out Lundy and purchased the present theatre building on King St. The name for the Kineto Theatre was derived from the type of equipment, a brass affair called a kineto, which was used on the projector to pull the film up. There was no sound, so the Kineto Orchestra was formed and provided sound effects such as thundering hooves and train crashes to add to the excitement. Eventually talking pictures arrived, then technicolour. Members of the Rumford family continued to operate the theatre right up to 1977 when the Kiwanis Club of Forest purchased and renovated the theatre. They continue to provide Forest with a theatre with first run movies to this day.
It is interesting to note that the Rumfords very early on had air conditioning in the theatre. They would place a block of ice near the theatre’s ventilation system with a fan blowing the cold air through the ventilation system. The blocks of ice they used were cut from Lake Huron during the winter and stored under heavy layers of sawdust to keep until the next summer. In the days before air-conditioned buildings, this made going to the Kineto Theatre a popular pastime during hot weather.
The Kinetoscope, invented by Thomas Edison, was a machine into which a person could look in and view a series of images that were played at a speed that produced an illusion of motion. The word Kinetoscope described the function of this machine, “kineto” meaning motion and “scope” meaning to watch. To the untrained eye, the Kinetoscope would appear to be no more than a normal cabinet. But what the standard passerby would not know was that inside of this cabinet was a fifty foot piece of perforated film that would be carried past a magnifying glass with a small motor. The movement of these images past the magnifying glass made the images appear to be in motion, and a person could look inside a peephole in the kinetograph and see the motion picture, which could be anything ranging from an opera to a prize fight.