Hollie Smith, formerly of Carcross, Yukon, and now of Surrey, B.C., sent in some great stories of Polly the parrot, who used to dwell in the dining room of the Caribou Hotel. These are the kinds of the stories I love to read and receive. Thanks for this, Hollie.
Dear Mr. Jim Robb,
I recently read about the search for Polly’s cage and for any interesting Polly stories, I have a few good ones about my best childhood pal.
During the years 1967-1972, I lived with my grandparents, Ruth and Ross Smith, in Carcross. Their best friends were Dorothy Hopcott and Don McLean, the owners of the Caribou Hotel. We ate dinner there nearly every night, and after closing hours Dorothy, Don and my grandparents played cards and had a couple of drinks, leaving me plenty of time to get familiar with Polly.
Polly’s original cage was ancient and sat on a table, like the one in your drawing. As Polly became more well known, Dorothy decided that it wasn’t proper for him to be in such a cruddy old cage. She ordered a huge new one, made of wood and mesh screen. It even had a big branch in it. The day it arrived, Dorothy closed the restaurant early and invited my grandfather and me to stay.
Polly was notorious for biting people, so Don wore gloves and held a towel to attempt the transfer to the new cage. First we heard a bunch of swearing and then the flapping of wings as Polly flew free. Polly managed to elude capture by flying from the top of one high curtain rod to another. Don and my grandfather chased him back and forth across the restaurant, fruitlessly flinging towels up in the air. Once, Polly flew into the kitchen and poor Dorothy almost had a heart attack. She covered her eyes and kept yelling out, “Catch that damn bird, but don’t hurt him!”
Free at last, Polly wasn’t about to give up easily. This dragged on for a couple of hours. It was dark now and both men were winded. Dorothy was getting frantic and said that no way was anybody leaving or coming in until Polly was caught, adding that it was a good thing that we were in a restaurant because we might get hungry.
After a few more rounds of chasing Polly, my grandfather suggested using me and some peanuts to tempt Polly down lower. Eventually, the cracking of peanuts got Polly’s attention and he landed on the back of a chair. They missed their first chance, but he only fluttered a few feet away, and after a tense minute they had him wrapped in a towel. They promptly stuck him in his new home.
Dorothy only kept Polly in the new cage for about a year or so, and then moved him back to his old roost because he was having a hard time climbing the big branch and had been staying down on the bottom. She figured that he preferred his old cage, plus it was easier to clean. That was near his last year, when he was getting old and rarely talked or sang.
Another good story is the night Polly bit Old Black Mike. Dorothy had a strict rule about no serious drinking in the restaurant, except after hours with my grandparents during her private time. It was Christmas time, so she allowed a couple of others to stay, one of whom was my grandfather’s friend from work up at the mine, Old Black Mike. They all played cards in the main restaurant area while I petted Polly. (Black Mike) saw that and couldn’t believe it. He wanted to touch Polly too. If a little girl wasn’t scared neither was he. He wouldn’t listen when they told him that only I could touch Polly; anybody else (Polly) would bite. He marched right over and stuck his hand in. Polly latched onto his offered finger and blood squirted everywhere. They had to forcefully wrestle him down because he wanted to kill Polly and roast him for his Christmas dinner. It took quite awhile but with Dorothy threatening to banish him from the Caribou Hotel, the only drinking establishment in town, he begrudgingly gave up.
I can’t remember if it was tourists or locals in there the day Old Black Mike, three sheets to the wind, stormed in there to get his revenge against Polly. He was so wrapped up in his swearing and threatening Polly that it took a few moments for him to realize that absolutely everyone was staring at him, including Dorothy. He eyed the crowd and loudly declared, “That f’n bird bit me!” And he held up his hand as proof before stomping back off to the saloon. It was silent for a moment before the place erupted with applause. The event became the talk of the town for months.
Eventually, the whole thing was acted out several times for a couple of free drinks on the house. Then a few tourists would follow him back to the saloon to buy him drinks so they could hear more about the night feisty Polly took on the miner.
I loved that damn bird and am delighted that people remember him. I’ve written a full proper story of all my memories of Polly; if you wish to read it for more details just let me know and I’ll either mail it or email it to you.
G’day and a big smile,