Cool treats and warm hearts: Chilliwack’s newest ice cream man

Darrell Ralph has spent the summer out with his vintage ice cream cart in Chilliwack, selling cool treats and making warm memories.

By Grace Kennedy | August 16, 2022 |5:00 am

Standing next to his cart at the Garrison waterpark, shielded from the summer sun by his red-and-white umbrella, Darrell Ralph looked as though he walked out of an old-timey Archie comic.

“The only thing I couldn’t get was the hat, the old hat,” he said, taking off the red baseball cap he had perched on his head. “But I’m still looking for it. I’ll find it.”

Aside from the elusive hat, 64-year-old Ralph is the epitome of the nostalgic ice cream man. And that’s exactly the way he planned it.

Since the beginning of July, Ralph has taken a vintage Icicle Tricycle ice cream cart around Chilliwack in an effort to spark a little joy in the community. He heads out most days on his mobility scooter, dressed in a red pinstripe vest his son made him and accompanied by traditional ice cream truck music.

Ralph is happy to detail each item in his ice cream man costume: the matching bow tie and sneaker; the crisp white shirt his wife irons for him; the custom trailer hitch welded onto the back of his scooter; the bells that jingle as the cart rolls down the road.

“I wanted to bring back the old traditional ways, in part because a lot of the children nowadays have never seen it. And all the adults remember it, and it disappeared,” Ralph said. (Of course, not everything is old-school: Ralph has also equipped his cart with an iPad to handle credit and debit transactions.)

“That was the whole idea of this, to bring it back and make people smile. And make me feel good,” he continued. “I needed some feel-good time.”

Darrell Ralph standing with his “Frankly Delicious Ice Cream” cart. It was named after his brother’s hot dog cart in Devon, Alberta. 📸 Grace Kennedy

Although Ralph didn’t talk about it much, that need for a feel-good summer was likely because of his leg.

Many decades ago, Ralph lost his left leg to the same cancer that took Terry Fox—osteosarcoma, a relatively rare bone cancer. Starting in 1986, Ralph underwent years of surgeries to deal with the cancer. He had the first femur transplant in British Columbia, he said, and today the fibula that was once in his lower leg actually resides in his upper leg, supporting the prosthetic he usually wears.

Just this year, Ralph somehow got an infection in his leg. And that infection went into his bones. No longer able to wear his prosthetic, he now gets around with his mobility scooter or a pair of crutches.

Instead of spending the summer worrying and waiting for the surgeries that he hopes will happen in the fall, Ralph decided to get out and bring small joys to the community in the form of frozen treats.

At the height of the July heat wave, The Current found him at the Garrison waterpark, parked in a patch of shade next to a garbage can where a woman was looking for collectible cans.

“She collects the cans—I see her all over—and she gives them all to charity,” Ralph explained when she was gone. “There’s lots of unique people around this area, it’s really nice. I met people from all over the world already, and heard different stories.”

For Ralph, some of the best interactions are with kids.

“I was sitting there one day and a little boy came up and gave me a big hug,” Ralph remembered. “He says ‘I wanted to say thank you for the ice cream yesterday.’ And that’s the kind of things that are happening.”

Darrell Ralph is happy to help his youngest customers pick out their summer treats. 📸 Grace Kennedy

During The Current’s interview, two young boys clutching a credit card and fistful of change approached the cart.

“Hello gentlemen, how are you?” Ralph said, looking down at the boys with a smile. The boys scanned the list of items hidden inside the ice chest: fudgsicles, popsicles, ice cream sandwiches. Eventually they decided on the tri-coloured popsicle popularly referred to as “The Rocket.”

“Two of those please? That’s $4 then,” Ralph said. He expertly pocketed their change in his coin dispenser, then grabbed the popsicles from the ice chest.

In the weeks to come, Chilliwack residents will be able to spot Ralph at the Garrison waterpark, or on the Vedder Rotary Trail, or in subdivisions around southern Chilliwack. You may even see him at community events like the Chilliwack Pride Festival on Aug. 21.

“I’m going to go as long as I can before surgeries,” Ralph said. He hopes those operations will take place at the end of September, coinciding with the end of the ice cream season.

And next year, he hopes to be back doing what ice cream men do best: sharing sweet treats and summer memories.

“I would like to do it forever, because people are incredible.”

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Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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