Ghost on the Third Floor - Caribou Hotel in Carcross
"It’s haunting and haunting and luring me on as of old". So said the poet, Robert Service. Was he talking about the Yukon’s most famous…
No one is quite sure when he arrived in the Yukon, or how he got here for that matter. Some say he came over the Chilkoot Pass at the beginning of the Klondike rush. What is certain is that he got no further than Carcross, and there he lived out his days. He also spent some time at Conrad City on Tagish Lake with Captain James Alexander, who owned the Engineer Mine. But poor Captain Alexander was a victim of bad timing when he chose to leave the Yukon on the last boat of the year in October 1918. That boat out of Skagway was the S.S. Sophia, the CPR liner that hit a rock and sank in the Lynn Canal, carrying all 353 people to their deaths.
Luckily, Captain Alexander had left Polly at the Caribou Hotel in Carcross before embarking on his fateful final voyage. Alexander called him Polly, no one know why, or how old Polly was when he arrived at the Caribou hotel, but some guessed as old as fifty years. Now Polly isn’t much of a name for a male, kind of like a boy named Sue. But like the song, Alexander had prepared a boy named Polly for the rough life to come. From 1918 to 1972, Polly lived at the Caribou, the most famous hotel in the Yukon. There he survived blizzards, fires, drunks and insults for almost fifty-five years. In the hotel, Polly sang opera, spewed profanity, and bummed drinks for half a century. That wasn’t hard to do since he usually stayed in the restaurant, which was just outside the tavern door. He liked Scotch, but would take a beer if that was going around. Lord knows he never paid for a drink, and would spout some pretty foul language if a tavern patron passed him by.
When I knew Polly in the 1960s he showed no signs of his age, nor of his unhealthy habits. By then he had come to dislike alcohol, and even the smell of beer coming from the nearby tavern would sometimes result in a flow of foul language. That’s why Polly was a major attraction at the old Caribou. He was even featured in major national Canadian Press news story, which resulted in hoards of journalists arriving at the Caribou to see if Polly really existed. They found, to their delight, that he did. And so when Polly died at the hotel in November of 1972 it became a story of international significance. A funeral train from Whitehorse to Carcross carried many Yukon dignitaries, while carloads of Polly fans arrived from all over the territory. Johnnie Johns, the famous hunting guide from Carcross performed the eulogy, and sang ‘I love you truly’. Then, with special dispensation from the territorial government, Polly was laid to rest in the Pioneer Carcross Cemetery where Skookum Jim, Dawson Charlie, and others are buried. You see, Polly needed special permission because it’s not usual for a parrot to be considered a Yukon Pioneer.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.