Living legend Johnny May inspires Canada's youth
BUSH PILOT JOHNNY MAY FLEW HIS FINAL KUUJJUAQ CHRISTMAS CANDY DROP LAST DECEMBER, BUT HIS SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY WILL INSPIRE CANADIANS FOR MANY YEARS TO COME.
BY SONIA MENDES / PHOTO ISABELLE DUBOIS
The Kuujjuaq Christmas candy drop is truly unique to the Canadian North, where May is regarded as nothing short of a hero. The 74-year-old pilot is a longtime resident of Kuujjuaq, and is well known among the town's population of roughly 3,000 residents for his Santa-like drops every December 25.
"For 54 years, Johnny faithfully dropped a medley of candies and gifts for the residents of Kuujjuaq—a village in Nunavik, Quebec, "explains Linda Brand, an interpretation officer for community programs at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. "It's a beloved tradition, and last Christmas marked the end of an era."
What started out as a simple candy drop grew to include winter clothing items, and sometimes envelopes with coupons to redeem big-ticket items. The Kuujjuaq recreation committee held bingo games to help raise funds for gift items.
At the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, a special holiday program has been created in May's honour. Museum visitors can hear a reading of The Kuujjuaq Christmas Candy Drop, a beautifully illustrated children's book authored by Brand in 2015. The book reading is followed by a miniature candy drop for young visitors.
"Through our museum programming, we can continue to share Johnny's inspiring story with Canadians from all walks of life," says Brand. "He's a wonderful role model for youth in this country."
The museum is also part of a new national initiative called the Canadian Aero/Space Skills Network. Bringing together more than 40 other industry, government, and academic partners— including Air Inuit and Canadian North—the network aims to inspire youth across the country to consider careers in aerospace. In February 2020, 14 students from Canada's North had the chance to travel to Ottawa for a Career Exploration Tour. With support from Air Inuit, the Kativik School Board and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the young Nunavummiut visited hangars, labs, and control centres of various members of the Canadian Aero/Space Skills Network.