Photos and Story by John Chalmers
Famed First World War combat pilot, Wilfrid “Wop” May, was celebrated at Wop May Night held at the Alberta Aviation Museum on July 9. Post-war, Wop gained additional fame as a renowned bush pilot, and then served as manager of No. 2 Air Observer School for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Edmonton during the Second World War. No. 2 AOS was housed in the wartime hangar that has been home to the Museum since its establishment 30 years ago.
Wop May Night was one of the many events and visits in the annual Historic Festival and Doors Open Festival, eight days of celebrating history, presented by the Edmonton and District Historical Society.
Wop May night included showings of the Edmonton-produced 22-minute film, Blind Ambition: The Wop May Story, introduced by co-director Fred Kroetsch. A copy of that film has been placed for showing at the museum. See an excellent video about production of the film with comments by Fred, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3LRr33SB1A.
The film made its debut at the Edmonton International Film Festival in October 2021, and is always well received by audiences. At the Festival, the film was awarded with the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary and the Jury Award for Best Documentary Short. The title alludes to May’s loss of sight in one eye during an accident incurred while he was working after the First World War. But he kept that as a secret and returned to flying for many years.
A special feature of Wop May night was the introduction of Wop May Hazy IPA, the newest beer from Edmonton Brewing & Malting Co. The beer’s 473 ml can features a photo of Wop as a bush pilot, and a brief story about him. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the beer goes to the Alberta Aviation Museum.
Although the evening was about Wop May, the event was also in sponsorship of YEG Honeycomb, an organization that has placed beehives at eight historic sites in Edmonton (YEG). YEG Honeycomb is a three-year pilot project sponsored by the City of Edmonton to support growth of urban beekeeping in the city.
One of Canada’s best-known aviators, Wop May’s story continues to be told in many ways, including the film that highlights some of his greatest adventures. Co-director Frederick Kroetch was on hand to introduce the film and answer any questions about its production.
Born in Carberry MB in 1896, Wop May died while hiking with his son, Denny (1935-2021), in Utah in 1952. Wop was inducted as an original Member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974. Denny has published books about his father, spoke about him a great many times to school students and other audiences. He has placed many of Wop’s possessions in museums and archive collections, including several in the display about Wop at the Alberta Aviation Museum. As well, Denny produced a web site about his father, to be seen at www.wopmay.com and a story about Wop is included in the Hall of Fame web site, where it can be read when you click here.