For 65 years this family-run business has been keeping ice cream lovers happy


How is it that the highlight of a trip to get ice cream isn’t even the ice cream itself?

In a small town, word travels fast, and looking at the map showing where travelers have come from on the south wall of MacKay’s Cochrane Ice Cream, it looks as if word has travelled around the globe.

It’s hard to believe James and Christina MacKay, who started the business in 1946, could have dreamed their ice cream would become this well known. To be fair it’s not everyday you see Canadian Entrepreneurs of the Year and Ice Cream parlour in the same sentence.

Twenty-one years after the family’s 1994 award and selection into MacLean’s Honour Roll – the parlour is being run as smoothly as ever by the third generation of the MacKay family.MapThe map inside of Mackay’s lets customers put a pin on their home country. People have come from around the world to the ice cream parlour. 

Photo by Brendan Stasiewich

Even on a brisk winter’s day children and adults alike have formed a line outside the packed store that reaches two buildings down. Smiling employees are designing cones for children who can hardly contain their excitement, jumping up and attempting to see above the four-foot counter top.

Those old and tall enough to see the wooden antique looking signs above the employees’ heads may have trouble selecting a flavour, after all there are 200 selections to choose from.

Customers’ mouths water looking up at the board. Not being able to try each and every one of the delicious kinds of ice cream is the most difficult part of being at MacKay’s Cochrane Ice Cream.

Do they want to try something new and exciting, such as chai tea flavour? Or do they want to play it safe with a customer favourite like cotton candy? They haven’t even had time to consider a milkshake yet.

image2-1Customers lined Main Street on Jan. 25th, happily waiting in line to have a taste of Cochrane’s most famous attraction.

Photo by Brendan Stasiewich

If those waiting in line are impatient or uptight they don’t show it – filling the building and running down Main Street. Each of those who waited their due time outside are now equally mesmerized by the flavours on display.

“Can I have three scoops?” A young boy excitedly asks his mother. She knows that much of even the finest ice cream made in the MacKay’s factory just a block away will make her son sick (if he overindulges). But it’s all part of the experience.

Perhaps in 20 years that same boy will once again be in the same ice cream parlour with his kids, reminiscing of his childhood experience, smiling and watching his children creating memories.
Perhaps that’s what sets MacKay’s ice cream apart. Although new 21st century cars, trucks or even Harley Davidson bikes have replaced the antique cars that once lined Main Street, once you step into the old fashion parlour you can almost hear Elvis on the radio, and see kids with yo-yos dangling from their overalls.

The sense of taste has magical characteristics. You can taste something and discover vivid memories that have been trapped in your mind forever. A certain flavour has the ability to give you a nostalgic feeling and give flashbacks of happiness.

If this weren’t the case, would Alberta bound travelers from California, Scandinavia or Australia be drawn to the small town, because of a simple ice cream cone, even in the winter?

There’s a quintessential aspect about the place that even tops the seconds after a lick, when the senses work together in conjunction to provide the perfect ice cream eating experience.Ice-CreamA diverse array of customers pack the inside of the store to try one of the 200 flavours Mackay’s has to offer.

Photo by Brendan Stasiewich

It’s more than just the incredible taste of the ice cream. It’s an experience not many can put their finger on. It’s an experience that breaks through the barriers of our five senses.

It’s the nostalgic feeling of both body and mind, standing in the same store, and eating the exact same ice cream cone people did 60 years ago. It’s knowing that today, in an ever-changing time, there is still a piece of history that has survived the test of time.

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