Did 2016 mark the end of Nunavik’s famed candy drop?
Veteran pilot Johnny May says he's leaving the door open for future Xmas flights
Like every holiday season over the last half century, this Christmas came twice for many Kuujjuammiut: once at home under the tree, and a second time, from the sky.
Local pilot Johnny May flew his 51st annual candy drop over Nunavik’s largest community Dec. 25.
Kuujjuammiut came out in large numbers under clear skies to collect some of the hundreds of goodies released from May’s De Havilland Beaver: clothing, airline tickets, coupons for kitchen appliances and hunting equipment and the event’s original offering—candy.
Dec. 25, 2015 was meant to mark May’s 50th and final candy drop flight, although high winds and a slippery runway kept the event from taking off.
The pilot pledged to fly one last candy drop in 2016, his 51st. But will it be his last? May is leaving the door open for now.
“It’s kind of like when you’re at a bar listening to a band that everyone likes, and they keep asking for just one more [song],” May laughs.
At 71 years, May is in good health and still flies on a regular basis.
The veteran bush pilot usually applies for an annual waiver, which gives him the green light to fly at under 1,000 feet over a congested area and release goods from his aircraft.
But recently, the permitting process was transferred from Quebec to Ottawa, he said.
“I would always get my permit at the last minute before Christmas,” May explained. “But this time, they looked at the population of the candy drop and the guy gave me a five-year permit.”
So, if health and weather permit, there could be a few more drops to come.
“I’m still in good shape, but you never know,” May said. “If I pass my medical again next year, I’ll do it again.”
Nunavik’s candy drop, considered unique in Canada, dates back to the mid-1960s, when the Hudson Bay Co. started hosting Christmas games for local families in the communities.
Hudson Bay Co. managers would often throw candy from the stores’ rooftops, a tradition May took to the skies as a 20-year-old pilot.
Today, a committee in Kuujjuaq fund-raises thousands of dollars each year to purchase items for the event. Candy only makes up about 10 per cent of the total loot May releases during the drop.