The next time you are at the Fort McMurray International Airport waiting for your luggage, why don’t you take a step outside for some fresh air? Open the glass doors to the outer courtyard and you will notice at the far side there is a Heritage Plaque, one of many installed around the region. Take a closer look and you will notice this plaque is in honour of Wilfrid “Wop” Reid May, a famous bush pilot.
Wop flew the skies around Wood Buffalo for many years. He was born on March 20, 1896 in Manitoba and grew up in Edmonton. As a pilot during the First World War, Wop shot down 13 enemy aircraft and he was also involved in the aerial battle in which the infamous “Red Baron” was killed.
In January 1929, Wop and Vic Horner piloted an open-cockpit plane from Edmonton to Fort Vermillion to deliver diphtheria vaccine. “The Race Against Death” made headlines across Canada.
In 1929, Wop and his wife Violet moved to Fort McMurray and established Commercial Airways Ltd. based on the Snye River. The company completed the first official airmail flight to the Arctic.
In 1932, Wop became the first pilot to track down a fugitive from the air when he assisted the RCMP in the manhunt for the “Mad Trapper of Rat River.” During his lifetime, Wop received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Order of the British Empire. Following his death in 1952, Wop was inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame and in 2004, NASA named a rock on Mars “Wopmay” in his honour. For more information on Wop May check out www.wopmay.com.