National Treasure #173: Johnny May

There’s a book.

There’s a National Film Board animated documentary.

There are YouTube videos: here’s one.

There’s a display/event at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum (on Sunday 17 Dec!).

Screenshot from Canadian Aviation Museum

What’s missing is the standard Wikipedia article, and the entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia. Yet the Kuujjuaq Christmas Candy Drop was made possible by Johnny May, the first Inuk bush pilot. The best I could find on him was an article in Nunatsiaq Online:

May, born in 1947 in Kangiqsualujjuaq to Bob Martin May of Manitoba and an Inuk mother named Nancy, decided to become a pilot during a flight to his father’s fishing camp when he was six. The pilot let Johnny take the controls and after that, he knew he wanted to fly for a living. He flew his first solo flight at age 16 and has since logged more than 34,000 hours of flying time during a career that spanned 51 years.

May had his own air-charter company (sold in 1988) and was still flying a few years ago. It looks like 2015 or 2016 might have been his last candy drop – and at 70, who can blame him?

“I made up my mind a few years ago that if was I fortunate to be in good health
and do it for 50 years in a row, that I would make it my last candy drop.” – CTV News

But May is famous for more than his Christmas Day activity.

For most of his career, he flew in areas where topographical maps didn’t exist, and neither did rules about the maximum hours a pilot can fly before taking a rest. It was a vast and uncharted frontier where he landed on tundra or ice, depending on the time of year and the weather.

But despite ample stories to tell, Fafard (Ed’s note: producer of the NFB film) said it was difficult to convince May to agree to a film about his life. A humble man despite his accomplishments, May attributes his flying prowess to years of practice and said had he been a cook for 51 years, he would have been a great cook instead.

In June of this year, CBC announced the production of an animated holiday special, based on the book.

In July this year, he was appointed to Air Inuit’s Board of Directors.


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