Christina MacKay, Cochrane ice cream matriarch, remembered

Christina MacKay was the co-founder of MacKay's Ice Cream shoppe in Cochrane, Alta. She died at 89 in late January. Her daughter Robyn spoke to her memory today on the Calgary's Eyeopener.

Cochrane's best-known franchise opened almost 67 years ago, still uses Christina MacKay's recipe

Christina MacKay, co-founder of MacKay's Ice Cream in Cochrane, died Jan. 23, 2015. (Robyn MacKay)

Christina MacKay's right arm was bigger than her left after a lifetime of scooping ice cream.

Nearly 67 years ago she and her husband opened MacKay's Ice Cream in Cochrane and launched the town's best-known franchise.

The ice cream matriarch died in late January at the age of 89. Her daughter Robyn MacKay spoke about her legacy with the Calgary Eyeopener's David Gray this morning.

  • Click the audio button to hear the interview.​

What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Gray (DG): Did your mom really have a scooping arm?

Robin MacKay (RM): Oh, she did. She couldn't do up the buttons on the sleeves of her shirt, so she definitely did.

DG: She had a way with customers. She'd actually reach out and touch people, wouldn't she?

RM: She was an old time social media expert, she always took time. She made everybody feel like whatever they had to say was worth hearing.

She was a great hugger. She was known for following customers out the door chatting with them.

DG: Tell us the story of how your parents came to open an ice cream shop in Cochrane.

RM: My dad was stationed overseas in the war, and met my mom in Scotland. They were married over in Scotland and he returned in 1946.

Shortly after that, she came in a ship filled with war brides and they landed at Pier 21 in Halifax. My mom came across Canada in a train and ended up in the tiny town of Cochrane with 400 other people.

She moved into the house with her mother-in law with no water and outhouse, but called Cochrane her home from then on. She loved the town of Cochrane.

DG: Think how much that town has changed in this one generation.

RM: Yeah, and she remarked on that constantly and she loved the change. She loved all the people, and the things that came to Cochrane, and the happiness that it brought.

DG: What did they know about making ice cream when they started?

RM: They didn't know anything. At the time they bought the little general store in Cochrane, the 1A highway went by right in front of our store. And then it changed. It got moved to where it is now.

And my mom and dad thought, "Oh dear, how can we bring people back into Cochrane?" My dad thought, "Well let's try ice cream," and that's what they did.

They started making ice cream and experimenting with different flavours. My mom used to pick Saskatoons and stew them and make them into ripples, and it just grew from there.

DG: Like so many Calgarians, I've been going there since I was a kid, and it was always the flavours, that big board of ever-changing flavours. How did they come up with those?

RM: My dad truly was a mad scientist and he was always creating something and my mom was a really good cook.

They'd collaborate together, and sometimes there were mistakes. Something fell into something and out came a new flavour, and it grew and changed and the flavour board expanded to what it is today.

DG: Is there a secret to that recipe that the two of them uncovered?

RM: I think it's a combination of a lot of things. Firstly the quality. My mom and dad never ever compromised on ingredients: high butter fat, top quality ingredients.

Secondly it's a destination en route to the mountains.

Thirdly it's the charm, and that came from my mom. She was the communications, HR, marketing, social media — that kind of amazing personality that grew the business by word of mouth.

DG: Is there one story that stands out?

RM: One of the most endearing things that speaks to my mom's personality was (former Cochrane Eagle publisher) Jack Tennant's memory of my mom and my mom's love for his dog.

His office used to be right next door to the ice cream store. Because my mom was a lover of all living things, she had a soft heart for children and dogs.

She made sure that all dogs got bowls of water and if ever there was a little dog outside she'd run outside and give it an ice cream cone.

Jack's dog was spoiled by my mom with ice cream cones, a tartan collar and a tartan leash. So that dog belonged to the store too.

DG: Does MacKay's Ice Cream still use your mom's recipes?

RM: Yeah, MacKay's is still following the original recipes. And we're definitely churning out new flavours, and my niece Meghan has taken over the business now from my sister and I.

She's definitely creating some great flavours in Cochrane as well.

DG: Did your mom have a favourite flavour?

RM: Oh, chocolate. She was a chocolate fanatic. (Laughs)

We served chocolate ice cream at her celebration of life the other day.


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