British Columbia Veteran License Plates

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On June 2, 2004, the Premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, and Solicitor General Rich Coleman announced a new series of special BC license plates for veterans that honours the men and women who served Canada "by defending freedom and preserving peace." The release of the plates was timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe by Allied troops during World War 2, and were to be made available to motorists beginning on 6 June 2004 through ICBC's Autoplan network.
British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell (right) with Lt.-Col. Archie Steacy (left), president of the BC Veterans Commemorative Association, on the front steps of the Legislature in Victoria launching the new series of licence plates honouring veterans in BC for their service to Canada.
The design of the plates feature a powder blue background, with a partial image of the national war memorial in Ottawa to the left of the plate overlayed with a symbolic red poppy.  The numbering on the plates is to be black and the "Beautiful" slogan that has graced all passenger plates issued since 1964 has been dropped in favour of the word "VETERAN" at top of the plate.
Initially made available only for passenger vehicles, the serial for the series started at 000-VAA and, unlike the convoluted sequence associated with the serial used on the standard Flag Graphic base, will progress through to 999-VAX before rolling over to 000-VBA (whereas the Flag Graphic would have rolled-over at 999-VAK to 000-VBA).  The 000-VAA series would otherwise have been tentatively scheduled for release in 2010 as part of the thirteenth million set of Flag Graphics (i.e. 000-LAA to 999-XKK).  It remains unknown how many plate have been set aside for this series as it will likely run for decades, but assuming that all of the "V"s have been blocked out for use on Veteran plates, this leaves approximately 400,000 plates.

Shortly before Remembrance Day 2004 (November 11) the province announced that the program would be expanded to include Motorcycles, Pick-up Trucks and Motor-homes. Truck plates will employ the same format as the current Truck passenger base with the suffixes LV, LX and LW (and potentially LY as this will mark the end of the Truck serial prior to it being reversed with the letters forming the prefix). The Veterans Motorcycle Plate will employ a "V" prefix - which should allow for 99,999 cycle plate to be issued (I doubt this series will ever be exhausted).
Shown at left: David McCutcheon of ICBC and Joyce Murray MLA unveil the new B.C. Veteran Licence Plate.
As it turns out, the introduction of the Veteran plate has marked an important shift in the approach of the provincial government towards license plates.  As surrounding US States such Washington, Oregon and Idaho began to introduce a plethora of optional specialty plates in the 1990s, BC motorists remained stuck with either the standard Flag Graphic passenger base, or the mountain-and-sea graphic associated with the personalised base (originally introduced in 1980) - which was not much of choice really!  The Veteran plate changes all of this and became the first specialty plate issued in BC and has now been followed by the specialty Olympic plate (which is available to all motorists).  As far as this writer is aware, the BC Veteran plate was also the first of its kind in Canada to use a "photo" (although Saskatchewan has now come out with its own "photo" Veteran license plate - copy-cats!).

A Political Photo Opportunity!

Every Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) maintains a web site and invariably contacts their constituents directly through the mail out of a newsletter highlighting their accomplishments during the most recent sitting of the Assembly.  The unveiling of the Veteran plate was a unique opportunity for many of the (then) 74 member Liberal caucus to pose with the Premier and the new plate, and pictures started showing up on the web shortly after the announcement of the plate.  Is body language important?  Can you spot who Gordon Campbell is not touching versus who gets the two handed grab?

To see a bona fide Veterans Plate "Photo Op," Click Here!

Designing the Plate
The first province to issue a Veteran licence plate was Nova Scotia in 2002, and within the span of about two years all of the other provinces and territories had followed suit.
To see how BC's Veteran plate stacks up against similar plates from across Canada, Click Here!
In British Columbia, the drive to create a Veteran's plate was spearheaded by the British Columbia Veterans Commemorative Association (BCVCA) under Lt.Col (Ret’d) Archie M. Steacy, and Veterans Affairs Canada Pacific Region (VACPR) under Sharel Duplessis.  Following a meeting that was held in early 2004 in which the Premier, Gordon Campbell, and Solicitor General, Rich Coleman, met with Steacy and Duplessis to discuss the possibility of proceeding with such an initiative, the concept of a Veteran's plate "was embraced without hesitation and ... officially sanctioned by the B.C. Government."
A Working Group was subsequently established by the Premier with representation from BCVCA, VACPR and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), and was charged with the task of recommending a design for the plate. According to Sharel Duplessis, "all members of the Working Committee offered suggestions and submitted these to the ICBC design team. Through collaborative effort, two final designs were chosen for consideration by the Working Committee."
While the design of the plate that was not chosen has yet to come to this writer's attention, the story behind the one we have all become familiar with (and which is plastered all over this particular web page) is a very interesting one.  
Apparently, the internal ICBC department charged with creating a plate out of the Working Committee's suggestions was given a timeframe of only two months in which to come up with a design.  The initial designs were deemed to be unsatisfactory and, as time ticked away, the team creating the plate could not come up with a suitable design.  Things got to the point that two days before a deadline, one of the team members phoned Veterans Affairs in Ottawa to request that someone take some high quality digital photos of the National War Memorial.  As one would expect to happen in these circumstances, the photos provided by Veterans Affairs did not turn out as expected.
So, another design team member went surfing on the Internet and found a "striking image" on what has been stated to be the National War Memorial web site. In the true spirit of any creative process, this picture was duly expropriated for the task at hand, cropped; altered to extend the sky; and overlaid with a poppy, Canadian flag and the words "British Columbia" and "Veteran" and, voila - an instant license plate!

Following some intrepid sleuthing by this writer, it is believed that the image that served as the inspiration for the Veteran plate's design has been tracked down (and it did not come from the Veterans Affairs web site!):

As can be seen in this series of photos, the photo on the Veteran's plate comes from a much larger image.  The photo at left is a partial shot of the War Memorial and shows the 22 bronze figures advancing through the archway of the monument - figures which represent the "Great Response" of Canadians who served during the First World War. The middle image is a close-up of the first three figures, while the image at right is how the middle scene was worked into the license plate.

The Veterans plate is a "restricted optional plate" (in license plate lingo), which means an applicant is required to have their status as a "veteran" confirmed by one of the Veterans associations recognized by the provincial government, including the British Columbia Veterans Commemorative Association - BC/Yukon Command; The Royal Canadian Legion; or the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association.
Essentially, a "veteran" is defined by ICBC as someone who served during wartime; in a post-war capacity; or during a NATO or UN operation, including members of the RCMP and Municipal Police.  Once eligibility is determined, the plate is basically free, apart from a $5 administration fee. In introducing the plates, the Solicitor General stated that "there are some 80,000 veterans in this province and we hope that many of them will order the plates and display them proudly on their vehicles.”

The Veteran plate program is not managed by the BC Government or ICBC, but is sustained by a "Herculean" volunteer effort of Veterans "who meet every week to review applications, verify eligibility documentation and authorize approval for final issuing of a [plate]. The age of these Veteran volunteers ranges from 65-84."

30,000th Plate Issued
At a special ceremony with Canadian veterans on November 11, 2006, Premier Gordon Campbell presented the 30,000 British Columbia Veteran Licence Plate to 81-year-old Anna Allman, who served as a Lance Corporal in the Canadian Women's Army Corps from 1944 to 1945.
Premier Campbell & Anna Allman
Sealing the exchange with a hand shake...
Wait! Gordon has kept one, quickly, someone check his Vancouver office
What makes this such a frustrating game to play is that ICBC can essentially designate any plate it wants as representing the "30,000" of the series.  Sequentially speaking, "300-VBG" is actually the 27,300 plate in the passenger series, but of course the Veteran base is also issued for trucks and motorcycles.  I am assuming, therefore, that when all of these types are considered, then possibly 30,000 Veteran plates have been issued.  However, I still have to question if "300-VBG" was really the 30,000 plate?

The reader is first asked to consider that in February 2007, the highest numbered Veteran plate spotted on the road was in "VBD" range, while at the time of writing (June 2007) the highest plate spotted was "490-VBG" which would seem to indicate that only 190 Veteran passenger plates have been issued across the province since Ms Allman received hers in November 2006?  

Bear in mind that Veteran plates aren't issued in the same way as other plate types (where each Autoplan broker is given a stock from which to work), but are sent out individually from a central distribution point (similar to the way in which the personalised plates are issued).  If this rate of issuance for 2007 is correct, then I would suggest that there has been a precipitous drop in demand compared to the first two years of the program, indicating that the pool of Veteran's willing to display these plates has potentially been tapped with only incremental growth likely to occur in the coming years.  
Alternately, it is possible that "300-VBG" was issued out of sequence (maybe grossly out of sequence) due to the possible symbolism of the serial - the 30,000 plate starting with the number "300"? However, if there is significance to the suffix of "BG", it totally escapes me?

The Mystery of Plate No. 1, Solved?
Since 1970, and the introduction of the first alpha-numeric plates, there has always been a nagging uncertainty for collector's as to what constitutes the first plate in a series.  This stems from a law in place at that time which stipulated that zero was an invalid number and, therefore, no plates could be legally issued with a combination of "000".  This was subsequently amended, but ICBC has maintained a practice of sometimes holding back the first plate in a series for promotional purposes (i.e. see the recent Olympic plate).

Despite the apparent answer to this question provided by the picture of Archie Steacy (at left) with plate "001-VAA" (my advice Archie, weld that plate to your car!), there remains a lingering question as to the fate of plate "000-VAA"?

Although it is understood that there is some sort of impasse between ICBC and the volunteer Veterans that administer the plate program which is preventing "Sample" plates being made available to the public, it is thought that were such plates to be offered, they would be stamped with the word "SAMPLE" (as is the practice with the standard passenger plate), and would not display "000-VAA".
Accordingly, "000-VAA" must be seen to be a valid plate number for registration purposes, but where is it?  Some tantalizing clues have surfaced over the past couple of years, the most common of which has been the appearance of a "000-VAA" plate on a vintage military jeep that participated in the unveiling ceremony for the Veteran plate in 2004 (see images below).  This same jeep has also been known to make appearances at Victoria Day Parade's on the Island, where many of the spotting's have occurred.
Unfortunately (and as can be seen in the third of the three images below), this is not the valid registration number for the vehicle - which belongs to a Collector plate (B01-091).  Interestingly, whoever maintains the Jeep was not aware of the difference between the status of the two plates as it would appear that a registration decal was applied to the Veteran plate and subsequently scrapped off - leaving a rough patch in the decal box.
Plate "000-VAA" as displayed on the Jeep at the unveiling ceremony in 2004.
The Jeep at the 2007 Victoria Day Parade on Vancouver Island.
A close-up of the Jeep's two plates, note the scratching on the Veteran.
But whither the other plate from the set?  This remained one of the enduring myths of British Columbia plate history until the duplicity of a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news crew in abetting the ransacking of the Office of the Premier and Cabinet in downtown Vancouver on May 22, 2007, shed some light on the matter.  As the white-bread, middle-class, suburban university student protestors overturned the office in the name of the Downtown Eastside, the camera panned across the mayhem and picked up an image of the missing "000-VAA" plate - nicely mounted on a wood frame (no less) and on display in the waiting room.

I hope somebody frisked that fellow in the lighter blue jacket and jeans on his way out as it would appear that he is about to reach for the coveted Veteran plate No. "000-VAA" displayed on the coffee table directly in front of him (it is sitting just behind the football in the image at left).  

Mind you, nothing has turned up on eBay yet, so I am thinking that he probably didn't get away with it!

There is no word at this time as to the status of the plate, given the apparent sturdiness of the wood mount it is attached to, one can only assume that it made through the ordeal safely.
It would seem, therefore, that following the unveiling of the Veteran plate in June 2004, the Jeep drove off with one of the "000-VAA" plates, while the Premier obtained the other and added it to the trophy corner of his downtown Vancouver office.  Consequently, while not a sample, "000-VAA" is also not for use.  So, the mystery is solved, "001-VAA" is the first plate of the series and it belongs to Archie Steacy.

Somebody probably needs to inform the owner of that vintage military jeep that it is an offence under Section 318.13(1)(c) of the Motor Vehicle Act to drive a motor vehicle "that has displayed on it a number plate other than those issued or designated by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia or otherwise prescribed to be displayed on that motor vehicle ... for the current licence year of that motor vehicle."  I am thinking that I may just have to make a citizen's seizure should I come across this culprit and hold the other "000-VAA" plate until such time as I receive satisfactory instructions from ICBC as to its proper disposal!

2004 Plate of the Year?
Every year the Automobile License Plate Collector's Association (ALPCA) holds a survey amongst its membership to determine the Plate of the Year. In 2004, the BC Veteran's plate was nominated for this award, and was up against plates from some heavy-weight states such as Florida (General Issue - "") and Ohio (General Issue - "Birthplace of Aviation").  To see the other nominated plates, just Click Here!
Despite the best lobbying efforts by BC collectors, the Veteran's plate finished a respectable fourth to the winning plate issued by Oklahoma (Special Issue - "State Parks").  All of the nominated plates and their position are listed as follows:

1st - Oklahoma
"State Parks"
(2,663 points)

2nd - Maryland
"Treasure the Chesapeake"
(1,892 points)

3rd - North Carolina
"Blue Ridge Parkway"
(1,703 points)

4th - British Columbia
(1,133 points)

5th - Georgia
"General Issue"
(1,058 points)

6th - Alaska
"General Issue"
(847 points)

7th - Ohio
"General Issue"
(692 points)

8th - Tennessee
"Children's Hospital"
(570 points)

9th - Florida
"General Issue"
(538 points)

10th - Ontario
"Toronto Blue Jays"
(115 points)
I am still rather dumbfounded that North Carolina was able to place third ahead of the BC Veteran plate (although the State does have double the number of plate collectors, and therefore votes)!  Nevertheless, if any consolation can be drawn from this episode it is that the Toronto (re: Ontario) plate got trounced, and deservedly so.  The last Canadian plate to win the award was Manitoba in 1997, so hopefully we will have better luck in 2007 with the BC Olympic Winter Games plate, stay tuned ...

"Veteran" or "Military" License Plate? 
On June 29, 2012, the provincial government announced that the Veteran licence plate program was being expanded to include currently serving members of the Canadian Forces, and that this would bring "BC in line with other provinces that offer veteran's licence plates active Canadian Forces members" (Click Here for official news release).
We here at can't help but wonder if this creates a misnomer in relation to the title of these plates as "Veteran" and if the more appropriate title would not be "Military" plates (as "Veteran" intones someone who has previously served in the armed forces"?

One of the more interesting aspects of this news announcement was that, since the 30,000th plate was issued to Anna Allman on November 11, 2006, only a further 9,000 plates have been issued in the intervening six years. It will be interesting to see if these new eligibility criteria create a spike in new "Veteran" plates being issued.

51,400 Plates Issued in 10 years (but we aren't so sure)! 
On November 6, 2014, the provincial government announced - just ahead of Remembrance Day - that more than 50,000 Veteran license plates had been issued since their release 10 years ago (with Minister Rich Coleman (shown below at right), who was there when the first plates were handed out in 2004, called upon again to present a plate to a veteran).
Just as 10 years ago, British Columbia was not alone in using the occasion of Remembrance Day to announce a license plate milestone.
However, in coming to the Tally of 51,400, the government suggested that approximately 6,700 Veteran motorcycle plates have been issued (along with 36,000 passenger and 8,700 commercial truck plates). Yet, on the site, which is a reliable source for the current "high" plates issued across North America (based upon sightings) there are only thought to have been 1,500 motorcycle license plates issued (i.e. to No. V0-1459).
We asked ICBC if they could confirm this number, but never did hear back ... It would seem, therefore, that the actual number of plates issued in the past 10 years is probably around the 46,000 mark. Regardless, we don't want to spoil a good photo op that gets BC licence plates in the news.
TB Vets Charitable Foundation
Congratulations to Sharel Fraser who was recognised by the BC Veterans Commemorative Association (BCVCA) in February 2017 for her work in support of numerous different Veteran Legacy programs across BC.
Together with Lt. Colonel Archie Steacy, Sharel was instrumental in negotiating the BC Veterans Licence Plate Program between 2003-04.
Accordingly, it was an engraved and mounted limited edition BC Veterans Licence Plate No. 000-VAA that was presented to Sharel by the BCVCA in recognition of her contributions (we are jealous Sharel!).
Be the plate dorks that we are here at, we couldn't help but notice that the sample plate presented to Sharel is a new dual decal box variety, whereas the original samples produced had only the single decal box (see below).

At left is an original sample plate with a single decal box produced prior to 2014. Interestingly, on the back of the plate is a warning against using it on a vehicle as well as a code for tracking these (and possible loss) of the plates.

A sign of the digital times, the BC Government web site hosts a section devoted to promoting the Premier's activities, otherwise known as the "Media Gallery". This is actually one of my favourite hunting grounds (my secret is now out!) and contains lots of great promotional stuff, including the two videos linked below:

Jon Ilnytzky Collection

Rick Pilotte Collection

Pierre Delacote Collection
For those with a sharp eye, you will have noticed that the uber-rare 2004 decaled Veteran plate shown above is odd in that the decal appears to have been modified (i.e. cut short to fit in the decal box with the day decal):
Given the date of expiry only 5 days before the end of the year, it is possible that ICBC might have run out of 2004 decals and begun issuing over-run decals with the 2005 decal dimensions. The problem with this theory is that the 2005 decals had rounded edges and this particualr 2004 decal does not. In addition, there are no other known examples like this one.
We think the more likely scenario is that, aware of the decal issues on other Veterans plates (i.e. no clear spot to place the day decal given the background graphic and size of the 2004 year decal), this particular motorist opted to cut the edges off to make sure everything fit and there would be no yellow bands on either side of their 2005 decal.



Timing and Sequence
It is thought that the entire bloc of "V" plates (i.e. VAA - VXX) has been reserved for the Veteran base. This represents a bloc of approximately 400,000 plates, and with only 31,000 passenger plates having been issued as of January 2010, and the annual number of plates being assigned now equalling about 1,000/year, it is estimated that the Corporation has a sufficient number of combinations for the next 369 years.
Plate No. Spotted: Date:
124-VBG March 2007
032-VBH August 2007
053-VBJ April 2008
000-VBK unknown
911-VBL October 2009
066-VBM July 2010

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