CBC Digital Archives

Wilfrid 'Wop' May: WWI flying ace to celebrated bush pilot

They were intrepid and resourceful pioneers who took to the skies: carrying passengers, mapping new territory, hauling necessities, discovering hidden gold and carrying out daring rescues. The CBC Digital Archives salutes some of the many bush pilots who made monumental contributions to the exploration of uncharted Canada.

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Wilfrid "Wop" May flew "everything from mail to medicine to miners", says Morningside host Don Harron in 1980. He's speaking with Denny May, son of the famed bush pilot. They talk about how he got his nickname "Wop" and how his career evolved after he returned from World War One as an honoured recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
• Wilfrid Reid "Wop" May was born April 20, 1896 in Carberry, Man., and grew up in Edmonton. He died June 21, 1952, on a hike to the Timpanagos Cave in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. • On April 21, 1918, Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen (the Red Baron) was shot down while in pursuit of Wop May. It has never been confirmed whether he was downed by May's squadron leader, Roy Brown (as credited by the RAF) or by an anti-aircraft machine gunner on the ground.

• In 1929, May and his partner Vic Horner enacted the finale in what was a spectacular medical rescue event. There were cases of diptheria in the remote settlement of Little Red River, which was nearly 1,000 kilometres north of Edmonton. The request for help had to be delivered by dogsled to Peace River, a 480-kilometre journey from Little Red River, so a telegraph could be sent to Edmonton for the needed serum and medical equipment. That journey began Dec. 18, 1928 and on January 1 the intrepid mushers, Joe LaFleur and William Lambert, reached their destination. The request was wired to Edmonton, the supplies were gathered, and on January 2 May and Horner set out in their open cockpit Avro Avion. They arrived at Fort Vermilion late afternoon the next day, and the serum and equipment were carried to Little Red River that night. There were no more deaths, and the outbreak was contained.

• May was awarded numerous awards and distinctions, including the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1918. He was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 1935 and also received the McKee Trophy in 1935. He was honoured as one of the 100 citizens of the century on the occasion of Edmonton's centennial in 2004, and was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974

Medium: Radio
Program: Don Harron's Morningside
Broadcast Date: Sept. 1, 1980
Guest(s): Denny May, Wilfrid "Wop" May, Wilfrid [Wop] May
Interviewer: Don Harron
Duration: 8:30
Photo: Wop May, Glenbow Museum collection NA-1258-4

Last updated: February 13, 2012

Page consulted on September 3, 2014

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