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Reprinted here without permission, my father Dennis Bell‘s 1972 article (impossible to find online in its unabridged form) which was heralded as Canadian Press’ Story of the Year in 1972, and was the source of some controversy. Dad spent a lot of time in Canada’s north exploring and looking for stories, was embroiled in the creation of the Sour Toe Cocktail, and became inexorably tied to the story of Polly the Foul-Mouthed Parrot. In a less-lauded follow-up, Dennis reported that Polly died in November 1972, not long after my dad’s article had been reprinted in hundreds of newspapers all over the world and journalists and tourists began to flock to the Caribou Hotel — this led to speculation that the story was contrived, but my father and the hotel’s proprietors insisted it was 100% (okay, mostly) true. Dad went “viral” decades before that would become a thing. But as with most of his adventures, the story about the story is practically more interesting than the story itself.

Parrot Reformed but Hates Everyone

By Dennis Bell – October 20, 1972

The world famous Carcross Parrot is probably the oldest, meanest, ugliest, dirtiest bird north of the 60th parallel—but he remains as this Yukon community’s one claim to international fame.

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.

The Carcross Parrot seems to have been in the Yukon ever since the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. He is at least 125 years old and has lived in the Caribou Hotel since 1919. He has survived a fire that flattened the premises, fall frost and ferocious winter blizzards and has outlived everyone who ever owned the tiny 22-room hotel. And that’s quite a few people.

The Carcross Parrot gets fan mail. People from as far away as California have heard about him and some have travelled all the way to the Yukon after hearing about him from parents and grandparents.

Bird of Ill Repute

Time was when the Carcross Parrot had a reputation as one of the most formidable drinkers in the North. Tipsy miners used to stagger out of the adjoining beer parlour and slip him a short beer or a scotch neat.

“The parrot used to be quite a drunk,” said Dorothy Hopcott, who has owned the hotel since 1959. “People would come in and give him a few belts. He’d get so drunk he’d fall off his perch and lie on the bottom of the cage with his feet sticking in the air.”

But the parrot got religion. A few owners ago, the hotel was run by a man of piety who toned down the Carcross Parrot’s purple prose and cut off his booze ration. According to the locals, the former owner patiently taught the bird several choruses of Onward Christian Soldier and eventually eliminated the somewhat racy sea chanties from his reportoire.

There’s nothing worse than a reformed drunk, so the saying goes, and the Carcross Parrot is no exception. Somewhere in the dark recesses of his tiny brain, the Parrot associates all adults with his days of ribaldry. 

Squawks at Guests

Nowadays, anyone who comes out of the little six-table pub gets squawked at. Then he turns sullen. Won’t say a word. Polly want a cracker?

“Go to hell,” is the Parrot’s stock answer.
“He can’t stand drunks,” sighed Mrs. Hopcott. “He can smell beer fumes and he gets mad.”

The Parrot’s disposition changes abruptly whenever children are nearby.

Somehow he’s figured out that kids don’t drink. On Sunday mornings when the pub is closed and the restaurant is open, he likes to strike up long involved conversations with children which make absolutely no sense at all.

“He gets down in the corner of his cage and mumbles away to himself,” said Mrs. Hopcott. “A lot of the time we can’t understand him. He’s picked up a lot of strange words and strange accents over the years.”

Nobody is too sure how the bird got to the Yukon, but the first recorded owner was a Captain Alexander, who operated the Engineer Mine near here during the First World War.

The good captain and his lady left the Parrot at the hotel to make a trip to Vancouver in the winter of 1918. They went down with the Princess Sophia, a CPR steamship that sank in the Lynn Canal off Skagway, Alaska, with the loss of all aboard.

The Parrot has lived in the hotel ever since. [END ARTICLE]

Epitaph: Polly is buried in the Carcross Cemetary after a crowded funeral, with a modest plaque.