British Columbia Passenger License Plates
1970 - 1978

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Due to the proliferation of various licence plate types that had occured throughout the 1960s, the Oakalla Plate Shop Business Manager, J.D. White, attempted to project the various colour combinations that would be required in the 1970s for all of the various plates issued by British Columbia as well as the Yukon (which required approximately 28 colour combinations):
As early as 1966, British Columbia had begun to contend with the challenges posed by the impending exhaustion of the traditional six digit serial format license plates. Production of the province's plates always began at Oakalla jail twelve months in advance of the calendar year for which they were to be issued. With vehicle registration nearing 700,000 by the end of 1966, the Motor Vehicle Branch (M.V.B.) estimated that at the average current rate of seven- percent increases per year in new vehicle registrations, the serial would possibly run out in late 1969, or 1970 at the latest. This meant the MVB was left with little over a year in which to make an important decision regarding the future course of B.C. plates.
In co-operation with a number of other jurisdictions, a joint study was undertaken to determine which of the existing numbering formats in use throughout North America was the most effective. This was a very important consideration for the M.V.B. after the questionable success of its own five-character system implemented during the three-year reign of the Totem license plates. In particular, any new system would have to be easily integrated with computers as one of the other driving forces behind the switch in serials were the creeping administrative costs associated with the current system. It was already costing the province roughly $1/plate in manufacturing expenses every year, on top of the costs of a burdensome distribution system that usually resulted in near riots at M.V.B. branches ill-equipped to handle the year end rush to renew.
1970 - 1972

Vancouver Island

Issuing Statistics
AAA-000 to AKJ-999
BAA-000 to BKJ-999
CAA-000 to CKJ-999
DAA-000 to DKJ-999
EAA-000 to EKJ-999
FAA-000 to FKJ-999
GAA-000 to GKJ-999
HAA-000 to HKJ-999
JAA-000 to JKJ-999
KAA-000 to KKJ-999
Ron Garay CollectionCentral & Northern BC
(Prince George)

Lower Mainland

(Vancouver Georgia Street)
Ron Garay Collection
Lower Mainland

(Vancouver Point Grey)
Lower Mainland
(New Westminister)

Lower Mainland

The distribution of plates in 1970 was not completely random as the first letter in the serial could be used to generally identify the location of issuance with Vancouver Island being assigned plates starting with the letters 'A' & 'B'; Central and Northern BC the letter 'C'; Okanagan & Kootenays the letter 'K' and the Lower Mainland all other letters.
The plates above attempt to show this break down, while a more detailed listing of issuing offices can be found in the Registration Archive.

The plate pictured at below-left is an example of the over-run plates that the province had to commence issuing in 1972. As mentioned above, these plates ran in the KLL to KXX series. Interestingly, this particular example shows that the plates did not employ the use of a dash separator between the characters and digits (similar to the 1973 base plate).
1972 - Over-run
Issuing Statistics
KLL-000 to KXX-999

Finally, in March of 1969, the province announced an experimental license plate type would be introduced in 1970 - one that would follow an alphanumeric (AAA-000) format, and that would be validated through the use of plastic decals. If the plates proved successful during an initial two to three year trial period, a five-year, or possibly permanent plate would be issued in 1973. All the new plates would continue to be made at Oakalla, but they would no longer be stamped on the standard steel base that had been in use since 1955. This change was implemented in order that the plates would have a better chance of surviving the projected three-year duration of the test. Even though other provinces, such as Manitoba, had already experimented with anodyzed aluminum plates to great success, B.C. decided to continue issuing all trucks, trailers, and buses with annual plates due to the higher wear-and-tear these vehicles were perceived to endure.
Gerry Harrison Collection Ron Garay Collection

This is one of the rarest of birds, an error plate that appears to have actually been issued to a motorist. Note the position of the 'J's ...

A less obvious error (if that is, indeed, what it is) can be seen on this plate which displays one of the letters from the second half of the alphabet ("P") as the first character in the serial.

In announcing the news, the Attorney General even teased motorists by suggesting there might be a change to the succession of blue and white colour schemes seen since 1963. Unfortunately, this idea was never followed through upon as the new base plates were to be blue lettering upon a white background. The Beautiful British Columbia slogan was retained, an embossed decal box was added to bottom center of the plate, while a dash was employed to separate the letters and numbers. That the series would start at AAA-001 (the law stipulated that AAA-000 was invalid, as zero was not seen to be a number - although some did mange to make their way out of Oakalla) was almost natural, how it proceeded from this point, however, has become one of the oddest stories in license plate lore.
1970 - Invalid Plates
In the 1960s, the stamps used by employees of the MVB for compiling licensing documents only had enough space for ten character positions. Consequently, all license plates had to be numbered in a series with no more than ten different characters in each position. For numerals, this requirement was met rather easily as zero through nine could be utilized, but letters provided a bit of a different challenge. The first ten useable letters in the alphabet proved to be A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, and K ("I" was excluded as it too closely resembled the number one, and it would be joined in latter series by O, Q, U, Y, and Z), and for most part these letters represented the prefix combination on the 1970-72 base (see below for exceptions to this pattern).
[A] Series
[L] Series
This limited character set temporarily eliminated a problem the MVB discovered with the new plates; offensive word combinations. Words such as ALE, BAD, HAG, FAG, BED, BAG, EEK, CAD, CIA and FBI were all banned from appearing on license plates, while a second list including SEX, RUM, PIG, RAT RYE, GIN, MOO, SPY, SIN and COP, among others, would not appear on later issues. The MVB conceded that it had been in touch with other provinces and states using the AAA-000 format for advice on offensive letter combinations.
The dispersion of the new plates across the province was as follows: Greater Victoria received AAA - AKK (abetting the continuance of people seeking plates with low numbers at the head office of the MVB in Victoria - please see the chapter on vanity plates), and BAA - BBJ. All other Island points received plates starting with the letter B while Central and Northern B.C. received C plates. The Lower Mainland was allotted D, E, F, G, H and J, while the Okanagan and Kootenays received K plates. By the fall of 1971, registered cars in B.C. had surpassed the one million mark, exhausting the AAA to KKJ format. The MVB was thus required to start issuing a new series from KLL - KXX.

In Vancouver, radio DJ John Tanner was working the 9 pm. to midnight shift at CKLG AM 730 when the new style plates came out and decided to air a segment in 1970 entitled "Freaky License Plates" where listeners could phone and report on whatever combination of letters they had seen that day that indadvertently spelled a word.
According to Tanner (as recounted by John Mackie in the Vancouver Sun), “someone called me and said they saw an FUK. It turns out it was actually a CK, they had misread it. But it was too late, because I had already gone on the air and listed my freaky licence plates for the night. I said ‘Oh, and here’s a report of an FUK. Oh, I thought they were censoring those.’ And then I went into a song or something. Some mother was tucking her child in that night. The child was listening to the radio, and she heard me say this and phoned the manager.”
Tanner was fired the next day in what became known as the "Licence Plate Fiasco.”

The actual design of the license plates in use between 1970-1972 differed little from previous years. A blue-on-white colour scheme employed, the Beautiful British Columbia slogan was retained, but instead of a date stamp appearing in the upper-right corner, an embossed decal box took its place in the lower center of the plate. It was here that motorists were expected to apply their validation decals that would, henceforward, carry the expiration date. As there had been a complete re-issuance of plates in 1970, there was no need to have decals that year display a separate registration number.
Validating plates under the new decal system was subject to the same restrictions as had been in place throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Decals were to go on sale the first week of January, and motorists received a two-month grace period (until the end of February), before registration had to be current. In 1971, and 1972, decals would possess their own serial number that attached them to a specific vehicle.

*     *     *     *     *
With the successful completion of the first phase of the new format and, in connection with the exhaustion of the series, the province announced the beginning of the second phase in July of 1972. In keeping with the plan outlined in the late 1960s, the new series would extend over five years and would build upon the experience of the 1970-72 series. The AAA-000 format was retained and began with the letters LAA, and progressing as follows:
# of plates
0,000,001 to 1,000,000
LAA-000 to XKK-999
circa 73-74
1,000,001 to 2,000,000
LLA-000 to XXK-999
circa 75-77
2,000,001 to 2,400,000
LLL-000 to PXX-999
circa 77-78
The license plates continued to be made of a heavy aluminum designed to be more resistant to rust over long durations of time. The choice of dies remained the same, but other cosmetic changes were implemented to improve over the previous design.
The decal box, which had been obstructed by trailer hitches and deemed as simply too small, was relocated to the upper-right of the plates - the traditional position of the date stamp during the late 1960s.
As can be seen in the plates shown below (i.e. "1973 - 1974"), the embossed dash separator used between the letters and numbers was removed somewhere between the "SAA-000" bloc and the "TAA-999" bloc:
1973 - 1974
Pierre Delacote Collection
Issuing Statistics
LAA-000 to LKK-999
MAA-000 to MKK-999
NAA-000 to NKK-999
PAA-000 to PKK-999
RAA-000 to RKK-999
SAA-000 to SKK-999
TAA-000 to TKK-999
VAA-000 to VKK-999
WAA-000 to WKK-999
XAA-000 to XKK-999
Ron Garay Collection
The license plates continued to be made of a heavy aluminum designed to be more resistant to rust over long durations of time. The choice of dies remained the same, but other cosmetic changes were implemented to improve over the previous design. The decal box, which had been obstructed by trailer hitches and deemed as simply too small, was relocated to the upper-right of the plates - the traditional position of the date stamp during the late 1960s. Another new design change was the removal of the embossed dash to separate the letters from the numbers. There exist, however, a small number of plates that were manufactured with the dash separator (these constitute one of the rarer variations of this base plate).
1975 - 1977
Ron Garay Collection
Ron Garay Collection
Issuing Statistics
LLA-000 to LXK-999
MLA-000 to MXK-999
NLA-000 to NXK-999
PLA-000 to PXK-999
RLA-000 to RXK-999
SLA-000 to SXK-999
TLA-000 to TXK-999
VLA-000 to VXK-999
WLA-000 to WXK-999
XLA-000 to XXK-999
Ron Garay Collection
Big changes regarding the retention of license plates were also announced following the introduction of the new serial. Elected the previous year in the provincial general election, the New Democratic Party (NDP) had campaigned on promise to introduce a compulsory government insurance scheme. One of the first steps in the creation of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) was the announcement that as of November 24, 1973, all drivers would be required to keep their license plates when they bought, sold or traded their vehicle. Previously, motorists had retained their plates for as long as they owned a particular vehicle - once a vehicle was sold, the plates remained with it. Under the new scheme, effective March 1, 1974 (immediately after year-end renewals), insurance was to be obtained when plates were purchased or renewed from the MVB, or newly accredited ICBC Autoplan brokers. By attaching plates to the person, and not the vehicle, the lines of communication and paperwork between the MVB and ICBC were to be simplified. In conjunction with this change, ICBC also introduced the first temporary testing permits in September of 1974 that allowed motorists to insure and sell a car for which plates had been removed. Valid for ten days, the temporary plates only cost ten dollars and were to be attached to the windshield.
1977 - 1978 (Oakalla Dies)
Issuing Statistics
LLL-000 to LXX-999
MLL-000 to MSX-999
1977 - 1978 (Acme "Quebec" Dies)
Issuing Statistics
MTL-000 to MXX-999
NLL-000 to NXX-999
PLL-000 to PXX-999
Towards the expiration of this second, and final trial of the alphanumeric format, a whole new die scheme began to appear on plates. Generally issued to new registrants, these distinctive plates were being produced with a narrower die set commonly referred to as "Quebec dies" after the province in which they had been manufactured. Once again possessing an embossed separator dash, these plates were a forbearance of the style to be used on the new "Blue-Base Plates" scheduled for issuance in 1979.
Ron Garay Collection
An example of the 1978 British Columbia displaying "Quebec dies" (left) against the 1977 Quebec plate displaying the same dies (right). Note the similarities between the numbers '2' and '3'.

The Premier's Plates
William (Bill) Richards BEnnett was the 27th Premier of British Columbia between 1975 and 1986. The No. VAB-002 plate (shown above-top) was found in the collection of the late Len Garrison and included a note taped to the back indicating that the plate had been obtained in August of 1982 and had belonged to Bennett.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to verify the story, but it is known that the VAB bloc of plates had been issued to Victoria motorists in 1973, so, if correct, it is assumed this plate was attached to the car that Bennett used while in Victoria (the provincial capital).

110th Anniversary of Confederation?
According to some reports, the plate shown here (i.e. "CDN-110") was issued to staff at the Motor Vehicle Branch (MVB) to mark the 110th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 1977. Whether this is true, or not, has yet to be verified.

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1952-1954  |  1955-1963  |  1964-1969  |   1970-1978  |  1979-1985  |  1985-2001  |  2001-2014  |  2014-2023  |  2023 and beyond


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