British Columbia License Plates - Expo 86

Expo 86

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Having spent most of my summer at Expo, I always assume that everybody is as familiar with it as I. However, for those of you who were not there, the World Exposition was held in Vancouver from May 2 until October 13, 1986. Expo's theme was "Transportation and Communication: World in Motion - World in Touch", and coincided with Vancouver's centennial.

Needless to say, with a theme related to Transportation, there was invariably going to be some sort of license plate tie-in.

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A Short History of World's Fair License Plates
With the use of the Expo logo on the 1986 registration decals, British Columbia was following in a well established practice by other US and Canadian jurisdictions hosting World's Fair's to promote these on their license plates. In fact, World's Fair license plates offer a particularly rich and interesting insight into the use and evolution of license plates throughout the 20th Century.

Passenger Decals

One of the more interesting sets of plates to emerge from the Fair are those associated with the NWT Pavilion. There are, effectively, two different types of plate sets:

NWT Pavilion Plates
The first are those actually used on official vehicles associated with the Pavilion and which display a single digit, such as the "EXPO 5" plate shown above. The second, more common type are the "EXPO 86" plates which were either produced as samples or souvenirs (I am not sure which).

Promotional Plates

Souvenir Expo 86 Booster Plate

The plate shown at left was produced by Astrographics on behalf of Universal Exchange, one of seven companies to have purchased the rights to the "Expo 86" logo from Expo's official souvenir supplier, Ace Novelty of Seattle in early 1986.
Universal Exchange was quoted in media reports from the time as having paid a $10,000 performance bond for the rights to use the words "Expo 86" on the plates, with the bond being deducted from Ace Novelty's 25% cut of Universal's gross profits.
Approximately 10,000 of the plates had been produced by February of 1986, and were to retail at souvenir shops within the Expo fairgrounds for $6.98 CDN. According to one of the Director's of Universal, Jerry Ruddock, the plates were proving popular with dealerships as giveaways for customer's buying new cars as well as being mounted on buses operated by Maverick and Grey Line.
Over 25 years later, unissued stock of these plates are commonly posted on eBay for around $6.00 USD.

Souvenir City of Vancouver Booster Plates


Anyone who was a kid during Expo surely remembers the water park with UFO-H2O as the main centrepiece.

Although I can't remember anymore, apparently the water park was in a sunken plaza adjacent to the Ontario Pavilion.

"The design was that of a spaceship piloted by a whimsical green Martian that landed in a fantasy landscape of jumping waters. A new process at the time saw the water treated so that air and impurities were removed. The resulting stronger bond between the water molecules allowed designers to make the water dance in unusual ways few people had seen before" (it is amazing what you kind find on the internet these days).

After Expo concluded, a big auction was held and basically everything associated with the Fair was sold off (for years after I can remember seeing the wire and concrete benches up in Whistler).
While the big stuff, such as the hockey stick in Duncan, were easy to pick out, the fate of UFO-H2O always remained a mystery (at least to me).
Well, weren't we here at surprised when one of our intrepid plate spotters sent in the following images in early 2009:
Turns out the old green fellow was shipped off to Kitimat after the Fair and, 24 years later, has clearly seen better days.
What cracked me up most about UFO-H2O was that the Socreds had been so hell-bent in the lead-up to Expo to get all the blue-and-white 1979 base plates off the roads and replaced with plates sporting the new "Flag" logo they were re-branding the province with (and which, incidentally, bore an uncanny resemblance to their own political party logo), yet here was a prominent attraction within the Expo site sporting an oversized representation of the dull 1979 base! Oh, how I still laugh over that ...

Highway 86
Pierre Delacote Collection
Given the theme of Expo was transportation, one of the attraction was Highway 86, which was a four lane boulevard that rose out of False Creek and contained over 200 cars, boats, bicycles, spaces capsules, airplanes, lunar rovers, and motorcycles. Not all of the vehicles had licence plates, but one of the motorcycles did. When everything related to Expo was auctioned off after the conclusion of the Fair, the purchaser of one of the motorcycles with a plate kindly donated it to a local collector - and this is the plate shown above.

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© Copyright Christopher John Garrish. All rights reserved.