Canada's History : 2020-08-01

TRADING POST : 42 : 42


SOMETHING TO SQUAWK ABOUT Louis the parrot fought the forces of progress in British Columbia’s capital — and won. by Susan Goldenberg H E WAS A BRANDY-SWILLING, FOUL-MOUTHED and that under no circumstan­ces must his environmen­t be disturbed. This meant that the house had to remain standing until the bird dropped dead — and parrots are blessed with very long lives. It was an irresistib­le story that gained internatio­nal attention — as much for the absurdity of the situation as for the back story of how Wilson came to bequeath a mansion to her feathered friend. An only child, Wilson was kept apart from other youngsters by her overly protective and overbearin­g father, real estate tycoon (James) Keith Wilson. According to a 2012 “Tales from the Vault” article by Stephen Ruttan, “On the few occasions when Victoria Jane did leave the house, her father would follow her. He would be hovering in the background, occasional­ly dodging behind poles if she happened to talk to someone. No wonder she grew up to be painfully shy.” Wilson lived her entire life in a three-storey gabled-roof mansion her father had built on a large piece of land on Burdett Avenue, close to the downtown area and the city’s inner harbour. Nicknamed “The White House” by local citizens due to its hue, the mansion was surrounded by a high white fence. Within this gilded cage — filled with antique furniture, large crystal chandelier­s, heavy gilt mirrors, Dresden china, ornate pillars, hand-carved staircases, and elaboratel­y sculptured ceilings — young Victoria Jane Wilson spent her days yearning for companions­hip. birdbrain who managed to thwart the dreams of real estate developers in British Columbia for years. The story of Louis the parrot’s seventeen-year legal standoff with developers in Victoria may seem the stuff of legend — and yet, it’s true. From 1949 to 1966, the ornery bird was the bane of builders who wished to tear down the mansion where the macaw lived — a prime downtown location — and replace it with high-rise apartments. In this unusual battle between progress and tradition, Louis, representi­ng tradition, was the victor and became something of a folk hero to the city’s heritage preservati­onists. “Louis roosts in and is the de facto landlord of one of the most sought-after parcels of downtown real estate in scenic British Columbia,” magazine reported in “The Old Bird Won’t Sell,” a story that appeared in its August 1963 issue. “In the eyes of certain businessme­n … Louis is a bone in the throat of civic progress.” If Louis’s tale was made into a movie, the opening scene would be set in 1949, with the death of his owner, Victoria Jane Wilson — a rich, unmarried, and childless recluse who had no siblings and few friends when she died at seventytwo. Louis, a gorgeous blue-and-yellow South American macaw, had been the love of her life ever since she received him as a gift from her parents on her fifth birthday. Her will stipulated that Louis must live out his days in her mansion Victoria Times Colonist Life 42 AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 2020 CANADASHIS­TORY.CA