Canada's History : 2020-08-01

TRADING POST : 44 : 44


Visitors were rare — mostly Keith’s business associates — and Victoria Jane’s mother, Mary Kennethina, nicknamed “Kitty,” was estranged from the rest of her family. So Victoria Jane never spent any time with her cousins, and she rarely socialized with other children. Mother and daughter often didn’t leave the house for long periods of time, giving rise to local speculatio­n that Keith wouldn’t allow them out. Thus isolated, the young girl cherished Louis’s companions­hip. (a short-tailed green bird with a yellow head). Eventually her collection occupied the mansion’s entire top floor. It must have been quite noisy with all the birds chattering away. Louis, though, remained her favourite — and, as such, he was given special treatment. Typically, parrots dine on seeds, nuts, and fruit and drink only water. But Louis received unconventi­onal extras such as hard-boiled eggs — and brandy! Indeed, Louis’s taste for alcohol became something of a local legend, with some newspapers labelling him a “lush.” (Other reports claimed that his annual brandy consumptio­n was only a modest two bottles, doled out daily in small dollops.) Louis reportedly had an extensive vocabulary of swear words that would make most humans blush. But where did he pick it up? After all, Wilson was described as both refined and genteel. “I’ve heard some of the things that bloomin’ bird says now and again,” an elderly Victoria tradesman told magazine in 1963, “and what I can say is you can bet your ruddy home he never learned it from Miss Wilson. She was a proper and kindly lady.” In 1917, when Wilson was forty, her mother Kitty died. For many years, Wilson’s life revolved around her domineerin­g, aging father, with the two of them living in their mansion secluded from society. For respite she visited her birds upstairs twice daily. It was only after her father’s death in 1934 that Wilson began to venture out in public. She hosted small, intimate dinner parties at the city’s venerable Empress Hotel, which were patronized by high society, and went on occasional shopping expedition­s, wearing a long sable coat in cold weather. Otherwise, her life was very quiet; she never had company and spent most of her time at the White House with her birds and her cat, Fagan. “She continued to fill her closets with tasteful and expensive clothes, but she rarely wore them,” Laura Langston wrote in “Fame came after parrot lady died,” a 1988 article. “Infrequent­ly, she attended an afternoon tea. She was a quiet, soft-spoken woman, always properly dressed and usually seen standing off to the side or in a corner.” By this time, Wilson was in her late fifties and was thinking increasing­ly about her beloved Louis’s future — and the possibilit­y he would outlive her. When Wilson died in 1949, she left a house full of antiques, closets filled with clothing and hats, drawers of gloves, and an estate of nearly half a million dollars (equivalent to $5.5 million today). Much of it — $340,000 — went to charities, including the Red Cross, the Royal Jubilee and Queen Alexandra hospitals, and the BC Protestant Orphanage. Self-effacingly, the money was donated in her father’s name, not hers. She left her second-tier birds with ample provisions for their maintenanc­e but far less than for her treasured Louis. Dear old Louis was numero uno. She earmarked $60,000 ($665,365 today) for his care. The will even provided Louis with his own human servant — Wilson’s gardener, Yue Wah Wong, who was kept on staff and paid $250 a month, a goodly sum B lue-and-yellow macaws are among the largest of the parrot species; they can weigh between 900 and 1,800 grams and have a wingspan of up to 1.5 metres. They are often very intelligen­t, talkative, good mimics, playful, and entertaini­ng, which is why macaws have been kept as pets for centuries. Macaws also have relatively long lifespans. In the wild, they may live only thirty to thirty-five years, but in captivity at zoos, or as pets, they can live for many decades, with some reaching the age of one hundred or more. It is not uncommon for them to outlive their owners, as Louis did. (They are also not cheap to purchase: Today, a blue-andyellow macaw can cost as much as $1,200.) As the years passed, Victoria Jane Wilson’s passion for parrots intensifie­d. The reported that, as a young woman, Wilson owned twenty-six budgies, six lovebirds (small, mostly green parrots with a variety of bright colours on their upper body and weighing about fifty grams), at least four Panamanian parrots (green body with a yellow head or yellow front), and a Mexican yellow-headed parrot Life Victoria Times Colonist Victoria Times Colonist 44 AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 2020 CANADASHIS­TORY.CA