Wilfrid “Wop” May was born in Carberry, Manitoba in 1896 and grew up in Edmonton. Inspired by images of aircraft during the First World War, May joined the Canadian Army and eventually was accepted into the British Royal Flying Corps School of Instruction. He was still a rookie pilot in April 1918 when he narrowly escaped becoming Baron von Richthofen’s final kill. May’s war service was just the beginning of a long career as an adventurous and pioneering pilot who earned a place in Canadian aviation history.
After the war, May started a commercial flying business in Alberta that included stunt and demonstration flying, aerial photography, police work and mail delivery.
In the first days of January 1929, May and a young pilot Vic Horner set out on a mercy mission to deliver serum to treat an outbreak of diphtheria some 600 miles away in Fort Vermilion. The conditions were brutal (-33 Celsius and with only an open cockpit Avro Avion available to do the job) but, with help from people on the ground, the duo successfully delivered the serum two days later. Other accomplishments include:
– the inaugural air mail run to Aklavik in the Northwest Territories
– participation in the RCMP hunt for the Mad Trapper
– regular work as a bush pilot delivering cargoes and people to remote destinations.
Amazingly, much of this flying took place following an accident that left May blind in one eye.
During the Second World War, May founded a search, parachute jump, and rescue operation that later evolved into the RCAF Search & Rescue unit that continues to serve the Canadian public today. May died while hiking in Utah in 1952. The National Film Board has prepared this 5-minute video chronicling this pioneer’s contribution to aviation history.
Wop May was a celebrity in his day. The image is of Wop May and his wife taken from a holiday greeting card. The card is among the artifacts in our collection.