Saturday 2 April 2011

Icecream and Memories

Every town has a few places that they feel are distinct, unique to them, and part of the special character of their community.  In Victoria there’s the Empress Hotel, the legislative building, Beacon Hill Park…and the Beacon Drive In. 

The Beacon Drive In’s been serving burgers, dogs and ice cream to hungry sightseers since 1958. The patio’s a little more tarted up than it used to be but the building remains much the same as it always was.  I don’t think the menu has changed much either.

Located on Douglas Street, just a couple of blocks from the ocean and right opposite the main entrance to Beacon Hill Park, the restaurant is always busy.  Even in the winter months, when tourism is at its lowest ebb, a devoted group of local customers keep the Beacon Drive In hopping.

We went to the drive in today, for lunch, and while we were enjoying our burgers and shakes we noticed a constant stream of customers buying ice cream.  That might not be unusual in July but in early April, on a cold, blustery day, it bears remarking upon. 

Just why is the ice cream at the Beacon Drive In so popular?  Well…like the building and the rest of the menu, the soft ice cream they serve at the drive in hasn’t changed much in more than 50 years.  While other restaurants and take out places have bowed to health concerns and rising food costs by switching to ice milk, the Beacon Drive In still serves deliciously smooth, full fat, soft ice cream.

I vividly remember my first ice cream cone from the Beacon Drive In:  I was 8 years old and we had come to the park for a picnic.  It was August.  The grass on the slope of Beacon Hill was yellow and dry, the day was smoking hot, and I’m sure we kids were getting cranky from the heat.  Dad pulled the family station wagon into the cramped parking lot at the drive in and told us to wait in the car.  We complained.  Loudly.  Then Dad returned to the car with an ice cream cone for each of us, and what must have been a blessed silence ensued.  He drove us to Clover Point, where the cooling breeze off the water and that perfect, creamy smooth ice cream made the best of endings to our day out.

Since that first Beacon Drive In ice cream cone, I’ve been back many times and I’ve bought more than a few “first cones” for the kids in my life.  No matter how often I visit, though, the memory of that first ice cream cone on that hot August day comes to mind. When I talk to other diners at the drive in, they tell me that the place evokes fond memories for them too.

So what is it that makes a place like the Beacon Drive In part of the fabric of a community?  It’s just one of the thousand threads woven into the greater whole, each drawn through the loom on the strength of a memory.

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