Biting, drinking and swearing, Polly the Parrot was worse behaved than some of the miners who frequented the bar at the Caribou Hotel in Carcross.
Reportedly living to the age of 125, Polly had a long and unusual life.
According to one story, Polly belonged to a barber in Vancouver and then came to the Yukon with the stampeders and was brought over the Chilkoot Pass in 1898.
In the early 1900s, the bird came under the care of Captain James Alexander, who ran the Engineer Mine located on the shore of Tagish Lake east of Atlin, British Columbia.
In October 1918, Alexander and his wife left the bird behind while they went south for a visit.
Sadly, they did not make it to Vancouver. Both died when the ship on which they were travelling, the Princess Sophia, hit a reef while navigating the Lynn Canal and sank.
The ship was destroyed and all of its passengers were drowned.
Orphaned, Polly moved in to the Caribou Hotel in Carcross and quickly became its more distinctive resident.
From its perch in the hotel’s restaurant, Polly adopted the language and mannerisms of the hotel’s clientele.
Over more than 60 years of watching the miners belly up to the bar, the bird learned how to sing, bite, drink, spit and swear.
“By the time Dorothy (McLennan, the bird’s final owner) inherited the parrot, Polly’s habits included swearing and biting her customers, especially local gold miners,” according to the book Talking Tails: The Incredible Connection between People and their Pets, which featured a chapter on Polly’s story.
“The bird also belted back whiskey until he got so drunk he fell off his perch. Despite his wicked ways, Dorothy knew Polly loved kids – the parrot sang sweetly whenever children sat down for homemade pie in her restaurant.”
Polly’s unusual talents also earned it a dubious fame when a Canadian Press reporter turned up at the hotel in the 1970s.
“The world famous Carcross parrot is probably the oldest, meanest, ugliest, dirtiest bird north of the 60th parallel,” Dennis Bell wrote in an article called Parrot Reformed but Hates Everyone, which was heralded as a story of the year in 1972.
“He hates everybody. Which is understandable, because the damned old buzzard has resided within spitting distance of a beer parlour since 1919 and has had to endure 64 years of beer fumes, drunks who mash soggy crackers through the bars of his cage, and phantom, feather pluckers.”
After outliving many of its owners, Polly died in November 1972 and was buried in Carcross.
By that time, stories of this fantastic bird had been heard all over the world and the Caribou Hotel owners received letters, cards and phone calls from people offering their condolences. Some people even offered replacement parrots.
“A funeral train loaded with dignitaries rode out from Whitehorse on the White Pass railway. Johnny Johns, the famous hunting guide, performed the eulogy and sang some verses of I Love You Truly (one of Polly’s favourite songs), while beating on a skin drum,” wrote Sam Holloway in the Yukoner Magazine in 2004.
“With the service over, almost the entire population of Carcross, folks from all over the Yukon and elsewhere, went to the Caribou Hotel for drinks – many, many drinks.”
Polly’s gravestone, which was placed on the outskirts of the cemetery, reads: “Under this sod lies a sourdough parrot, / Its heart was gold, pure 14 carat. / Polly now can spread her wings / Leaving behind all earthly things. / She ranks in fame as our dear departed, / A just reward for being good hearted.”
A rubbing from Polly’s gravestone is featured in Matt Willes’ display of Yukon headstone rubbings showing in the MacBride Museum’s community cabinet until September.
This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.