CM . . . .
Volume V Number 4 . . . . October 16, 1998
Wop bedded the plane down and went to meet the press, tired, cold, and stiff, but enthusiastic about the machine he had handled for five hours. He had high praise for its performance under difficult conditions. As he told the press, "I can heartily endor se its use in the rough conditions of the north, I can and will safely predict to you, members of the press, are looking at the machine that will open up the north."Wilfred "Wop" May was born in the small town of Carberry, Manitoba, in 1896, but lived most of his life in Edmonton and northern Alberta. Sheila Reid explains that he got his nickname when he was four years old. It seems a small cousin could not pronoun ce Wilfred, and so the boy who would become a World War I "Ace" and a pioneer aviator in Western Canadian and the Arctic was known as Wop for his entire life.
Although Reid tells the story in a clear factual style, the presentation is as dry and cold as an Arctic high in mid-winter. This should be a thrilling story of dare-devil vitality and ardor for adventure. Verve and passion stir students' imaginations; they also epitomize men of Wop's character.
Wop's flying career began in 1917, and, as a fledgling pilot, his first claim to notoriety was not becoming the eighty-first victim of the greatest World War I fighter pilot, Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, the infamous "Red Baron." Wop was about to become a statistic on the casualty lists when, luckily, his Edmonton school chum, Roy Brown, was able to down the expert German. Reid does not tell us any more about Wop's military career except to say that his skills improved and he ended the war with thirtee n victories and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by King George V.
Wop's love of flying, his consummate skills, personal courage, and vision of the future in Canada's north made him a prominent factor in the developing commercial aviation industry in Alberta during the 1920s and 1930s. He was a popular attraction on the Alberta barnstorming circuit. His public stature grew when he flew daring rescue and medical missions in Northern Alberta in the 1920s. He helped open up the isolated communities of the Northwest Territories by flying the first mail planes into the Arct ic in 1929 and by starting his own commercial airline service. He gained even greater public acclaim in 1932 when he tracked down the murderous "Mad Trapper" of Rat River and saved the life of a RCMP officer who had been critically wounded in the final d eadly shoot-out with the desperado.
The country-boy who became an "Ace," a barnstormer, and pioneer Arctic flyer retired as a director of overseas development for Canadian Pacific Airlines. Canadian flying was in its infancy when Wop first flew open cockpit wooden biplanes into the Arctic w astes, but, by the time of his death at 56, the industry he fostered had matured into a grand enterprise spanning the globe.
Recommended with reservations.
Ian Stewart regularly reviews for CM, NeWest Review and the Winnipeg Free Press.
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