Part of duhaime.org's Famous, Strange and Outrageous Wills.
According to most experts, only the turtle lives longer than the parrot, the latter having a maximum lifespan of 100 years.
This would make them excellent executors to wills and were they sentient beings, they might monopolize the business. In fact, if one has ever heard a parrot speak, compare with certain lawyers (and judges) and definitive voice similarities exist.
On this basis, it is possible that when Victoria Jane Wilson of Victoria, British Columbia wrote her will, she meant to appoint her parrot as executor. But as the Will had it, and when Jane died in 1949 and her Will read, Louis the parrot was indeed a beneficiary to the Wilson fortune.
Louis, is appears as best one can ever really know these things, cracked his way out of an egg in South America in about 1863. Canada was four years away from becoming a quasi-independent state. The Province of British Columbia was not yet organized.
His eventual proprietor, little Miss Victoria Jane Wilson was born in 1878 to a wealthy local real estate tycoon, J. Keith Wilson. Wilson senior purchased a large piece of land very close to the downtown area of what was then an important spoke in the North American West Coast gold rush. The three-story Wilson mansion, at 727 Courtney Street in Victoria, was painted white (see adjacent picture) and was surrounded by high walls; very private.
Behind those walls, as money and pampering often punishes its own, daughter became reclusive, eccentric spinster.
In 1882, when she was five years old, she received what would be her favourite all-time birthday present: a blue and yellow parrot of the macaw variety. She named it Louis. It is then not surprising that when she died, 67 years later, it was discovered that among her eccentricities, she loved exotic birds. At one time, Ms Wilson maintained a full aviary with up to 60 birds in her house.
In her declining years, Victoria Jane must have gazed upon Louis and
realized that a parrot is, well, a parrot. She bought a younger parrot
and named him Morrie, to act as a companion to King Louis.
But her favourite was Louis, with excellent longevity genes (Louis, it seems, liked walnuts and brandy). Eventually, the mansion was renovated and the entire top floor became an aviary.
Victoria Jane's mother died in 1917 and her father in 1934, leaving the spinster alone but for Louis and friends, and a Chinese gardener.
When the heiress herself died in 1949, the Wilson estate was estimated at $500,000, mostly in real estate.
In her will, she gave most of her estate to charity but a large amount was set aside to establish a trust for Louis the parrot. $200 a month was to go to his care and upkeep, and he was to eventually have the run of the aviary, and all the brandy and walnuts he could consume. The bird was also given a life estate in the white mansion.
Louis was not the only bird … err, asset left behind, but Louis survived them all.
When the executor did the inventory, there were over 100 pairs of white gloves and a 1913 Hupp-Yeats electric automobile with less than 100 miles on the odometer.
Why an electric automobile? Because gas automobiles were too noisy and caused Louis to ruffle the feathers.
The trustee and parrot-keeper was to be the family's long-time gardener, Yue "Ah Wong" Wah Wong.
Behind Yue stood one of Victoria's most trusted estate law firms, ready and poised to protect Louis from any gold-digging bird-hater next-of-kin.
As the other birds died, Louis, with his own team of lawyers the wind
beneath his wings, became the famous parrot heir of Canada's Northwest,
even featured in the very-popular American weekly, Life Magazine. Like
any celebrity, he was subjected to awful rumours, one of the most
popular of which was his (or her) gender. Was it Louis or was it really Maudie?
The properties were first sold to a local developer, Douglas Abrams who probably called in a demolition team but was quickly rebuffed when the lawyers reminded him of the fine print; the bird life estate. According to Life Magazine:
"Mr. Abrams subdivided the existing house into six apartments and sat down to wait out the old bird."
But parrots tend to last quite a long time. Seeing he was being outlived by a mere bird, Abrams licked his wounds, hoisted the white flag on the white mansion and to other, more savvy developers. The new sheriffs in town were up to Louis' shenanigans. They quietly implemented the tried and true anti-heritage tactic: bring in tenants, let them do what tenants do - run down the property - thus making the house an undesirable eyesore and get the locals on board.
Can you spell "rooming house"?!
Ultimately, Louis was in a real estate tycoon fight without a beak. His keepers knew the good times were over. When, in 1966, Louis was unceremoniously secreted to Wong's residence, the bulldozers could no longer be stopped.
It went from bad to worse for Louis when his keeper, Ah Wong, who was only human, died in 1967.
And so, by the time of Ah Wong's death, the Wilson mansion was run down and had become a common rooming house. The downtown area was bursting at the seams and the land was desperately needed for development. The only impediment, really, was this feathered animal heir with a long lifespan, a sore if there ever was one in the derrière of any city planner. But the mansion was also a local heirloom. A nonprofit sprung up in 1973 to rescue the mansion from certain demolition; the Hallmark Society, which still exists and protects heritage property throughout the Victoria area. The name of the Society's award given each year to a worthy heritage project: the Louis Award.
Louis didn't care about the bulldozers anymore. He had flown the coop and by bird standards, he was swimming in brandy and walnuts. Even with inflation, a pension or annuity of $200 a month was ample to maintain any geriatric bird.
Not unlike the residents of Loch Ness, Scotland, Victoria locals will not confirm it but the fact is Louis finally died in 1985 at the ripe old age of 115. But whatever happened to his lower-class sidekick Morrie, is a mystery.
Today at the site of Louis' glorious and long reign as King Bird of Canada's Northwest (or should that be queen?), stands a 19-floor hotel aptly named the Chateau Victoria and which offers, on the top, fine dining and the city's best view. The restaurant was originally called the Parrot House for you-know-who but the name was eventually changed to Vista 18.
- Anon., Our History: The History of the Chateau Victoria Location (Parrot Story), retrieved from the Internet on May 25, 2011 [www.chateauvictoria.com/history.html]
- Duhaime.org, Famous, Outrageous and Strange Wills
- Grant, Peter, Victoria: From Sidney to Sooke (Banff, Canada: Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., 1994), page 101.
- Hallmark Society website [www.hallmarksociety.ca] including film of Victoria circa 1907 [www.hallmarksociety.ca/Harbeck/1907v3.htm]
- Ruttan, Stephen, Miss Wilson and the Parrot, Greater Victoria Public Library, May 2008, retrieved from the Internet on May 25, 2011 [http://gvpl.ca/interests/local-history/tales-from-the-vault/miss-wilson-and-the-parrot/]
- Sackett, Russell, "The Old Bird Won't Sell", Life Magazine, August 9, 1963
Duhaime.org acknowledges the timely contribution made by Robert Mulligan, Q.C. of Victoria, British Columbia
who rescued the author of this story by providing essential information as to Louis the Parrot, thus rescuing that author from a temporary brain cramp.