British Columbia Passenger License Plates
1985 - 2001

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The period between 1985 and the present is considered to be the Flag Era after the stylized version of the provincial flag the has graced the centre of BC plates since 1985.

*     *     *     *     *

In early 1982, British Columbia found itself on the verge of a recession as economic conditions began to deteriorate and real GDP fell 6.1%. In response, the provincial government responded by introducing a “Restraint” program that froze public sector wages, restricted Ministry budgets and promised to reduce collective bargaining rights and the ability to strike within the pubic sector.

The “Restraint” program triggered widespread opposition within the province, prompting then Premier, Bill Bennett (shown at left), to call an election on the issue for May 6, 1983. real GDP fell 6.1%. In the lead-up to the election, Bennett had transformed the Social Credit (“Socreds”) party from a largely volunteer outfit to a professional party machine by bringing in outside experts. 

This included experts in political branding, who incorporated the imagery of the province's “Spirit Flag” (at right); a government logotype adopted in 1963 that is loosely based upon the provincial flag introduced by Bennett's father, W.A.C. Bennett, in 1960, into the Socred's 1983 campaign materials.

According to Bob Plecas, a Deputy Minister in Bennett’s administration, the idea was to make the people think there is no difference between Social Credit and the government.

Bennett's Social Credit (“Socreds”) party went on to win the 1983 election, claiming almost 50% of the popular vote and 35 seats in the 57 seat Legislature.

Two months later, on July 7, 1983, Bennett's government introduced 26 pieces of legislation to reduce government spending and certain eliminate public sector labour rights. This included, amongst other things:

Rent controls [being] abolished. Landlords were given the right to evict tenants without cause. The Human Rights Commission was shut down, its workers fired on the spot. The Employment Standards Branch was killed off. Scrutiny of Crown corporations was wound up, while the government tightened its grip over local school board budgets and community colleges, including course content.

The pushback from various public and private sector unions was significant, giving rise to Operation Solidarity (inspired by the name used by anti-Communists in Poland a few years earlier) during the summer and fall of 1983 that brought the province to the verge of a general strike. 

In one of the first actions related to Operation Solidarity BCGEU workers in Kamloops occupied an office to keep managers away. Note the sign on the wall; Wanted: Bill Bennett for the murder of the B.C. Spirit (Flag?)

While labour organized against the “Restraint” program, Bennett's professional political staff were busy at work. Again, according to Bob Plecas:

... government messaging was made consistent, and the boys in GIS (Government Information Services) had no shame. Nothing was sacred. One of their first projects was to design a new licence plate for the province incorporating the “wavey flag” symbol that had been used extensively by the Social Credit Party in its election campaigns.

Shown at right is what is believed to be a very early mock-up of a license plate design incorporating the “Spirit Flag” design, possibly devised by the shameless “boys in GIS” for consideration by Premier Bennett (NOTE: the provenance of this item is unknown).

As the story goes, when [Dave] Laundry [a communications specialist] brought the design to cabinet for final approval, Bennett remarked: 'I can hardly wait to see [Opposition Leader] Dave Barrett fasten this licence plate to his car.'”

The following are additional examples of the “Spirit Flag” branding undertaken by the Socreds in the mid-1980s:

Another animating political consideration for the Socreds at this time was the promotion of home-grown industries to show that the “Restraint” program was actually resulting in economic development.

To this end, the government purportedly reached out to Astrographic Industries Limited, a Surrey firm with a reputation for being an innovative design company. This appealed to the government as it required a company capable of producing the stylized tri-coloured version of the provincial flag, which is known in the industry as a “close registered graphic” and was not easy to reproduce on a license plate in the early 1980s.

In the lead-up to the awarding of the contract, a meeting was held in the Premier’s office with representatives of Astrographic in March of 1984.  Confident in their ability to produce the design, Anders Ahlgren of Astrographic stated that they could manufacture the plates at an additional cost of only $0.30/ pair. 

Keith JackmanConcerned that this figure seemed ad hoc, the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, Keith Jackman (shown at left), cautioned Ahlgren that rather than guessing at the additional cost, he go back and do his homework as signing a contract in the Premier’s office was not to be taken lightly. Undaunted, Ahlgren felt it could be done and the multi‐million dollar contract was awarded to Astrographic and formally announced on March 8, 1984.

An important stipulation of the contract was that the new plates needed to be ready for issuance by January of 1985 so that all of the old blue plates that had been issued to motorists in 1979 would be off the roads ahead of the opening of the World’s Fair (Expo 86) in Vancouver in May of 1986. 

This left Astrographic less than nine (9) months to devise a manufacturing process and produce sufficient quantities of the new plates so that the 800 Autoplan agents throughout the province could be provided with stock prior to the end of 1984. 

While not unprecedented, after all, J.R. Tacey & Sons and possibly even the Thompson Heating and Ventilating Company had both been required to learn how to make license plates with cast-off equipment under a short-time deadline, Astrographic's timeline left little room for error.

And just like Tacey and Thompson, Ahlgren set off on a fact finding mission shortly after winning the contract, touring various facilities in order to learn the art of license plate production. This included a visit to the license plate shop at Walla Walla prison in Washington State, which was captured in a local news story profiling the prison shop in the summer of 1984:

Quoted above is Paul Federline, Manager of the Walla Walla Prison License Plate Shop in 1984. He was describing his perception of prison industries prior to coming to Walla Walla, believing them to be labour intensive and inefficient. Whereas, Walla Walla's shop was automated and modern, as confirmed by "a man" from BC!

Shown at left is an inmate operating the plate making equipment at Walla Walla in 1987 and after Washington had introduced the Mount Rainier graphic for its centennial celebration in 1989.

To help Astrographic in its task, the province offered the equipment from the Plate Shop at Oakalla Prison (which had been shuttered in the late 1970s), which included presses and various dies used to produce BC and Yukon plates from the mid-1950s through to the mid-1970s, at a cost of $50,000.  Ahlgren also set about obtaining the other necessary components, such as silk screening equipment, ovens, sheeting, paints and related materials.

In a feat that few thought possible, Ahlgren developed a computerized system to run the production line within three months of the contract being signed and was making plates shortly thereafter.

In anticipation, Alex Fraser, Minister of Transportation and Highways, and Claude Richmond, Minister of Tourism (and Minister responsible for Expo 86) revealed the design of the new plates on September 11, 1984.

For the first time, the province's license plates would be reflective, thanks to special sheeting from 3M, fulfilling a request from various traffic safety groups that had first been made in the mid-1960s.

The press noted that the plates included the “ubiquitous red, blue and yellow stylized B.C. flag favoured by the Social Credit government”, the motorists would start receiving the plates in the New Year (1985) and that the expiry decal for 1986 would include the Expo 86 logo.

Fraser teased that the government had toyed with the idea of replacing the “Beautiful British Columbia” slogan with “Super, Natural British Columbia” but had decided against it.

The cost of rolling out the new plates was estimated at between $5 million to $6 million, or “$1.42 per vehicle more than the current plates” being made by Hi-Signs. Minister Fraser was quick to point out, however, that despite this cost increase Astrographic was employing 25 people locally and the contract would “give the Surrey firm an edge on bidding for new plate contracts across North America” (more on this below).

1985 - 2001

While the plates had their fans, they also had their detractors who clearly saw the political branding the Socreds were implementing.  In Letters to the Editor that followed the first image of the new plates, dissatisfaction with the new plates was made loud and clear;

The Socreds seem to have nothing else to do in B.C. but design new symbols of their reign ... This latest publicity gimmick [license plates] is insensitive to the real needs of our province with its 16 per cent unemployment and one in five people on welfare or unemployment insurance.

Even the “Young Socreds” weren't entirely happy, passing a resolution the following month at the party's 1984 Convention calling for the license plate slogan to be changed to “Super, Natural British Columbia”.

Behind the scenes, however, bugs were wreaking havoc with the manufacturing process.  The computerised system devised by Ahlgren had to be geared to the slowest part of the plate-making process; the 200-ton press. Unfortunately, the press kept malfunctioning when the characters were punched into the metal plate because the computer wasn’t properly synched and as soon as it got ahead of, or behind the press, the whole system would jam. 

Gerry Anderson, the President of Astrographic at the time, also indicated that printing the “Spirit Flag” was the biggest headache as “we have to put each color on in separate steps, and put the plates fives times through a number of processes, including the oven.”

These problems resulted in a crucial deadline being missed that would have allowed the new plates to be issued on January 1st.  On January 25, 1985 (3.5 weeks later), the local press had taken notice of the delay and began to ask questions.

Keith Jackman, Superintendent of the Motor Vehicle Branch, was left to explain the reasons why the new license plates were delayed and, in a series of what must have been frustrating announcements, when motorists might expect to see the plates at their local AutoPlan Agency.

On February 5, 1985 (five weeks later), Jackman advised that the Branch was monitoring the situation at Astrographic closely, but were not satisfied that the kinks had been worked out to allow for sales to begin.

On February 27, 1985 (eight weeks later), and one day before approximately 580,000 motorists (representing about 1/3 of all car owners in the province) were due to renew their registration for the year, Jackman was forced to announced another crucial deadline was going to be missed!

Despite only 100,000 of the new license plates having been produced and the MVB wanting to have a stockpile of at least 700,000 license plates (representing a 2-month supply) ready before release, Jackman thought this could occur within 10 day (or by March 9, 1985).

On March 20, 1985 (11 weeks later), Jackman announced that a new press had been installed at the Astrographic and there were high hopes this would resolve all the manufacturing problems that had been experienced to date and allow the new plates to be released “very soon, with two weeks”!

The press dryly noted that “previous announcements that the plates would be issued soon, were followed by production problems and further delays.” Astrographic's President, Gerry Andersen, was “not available for comment.”

For a variety of reasons, historic photos from inside a license plate production facility, particularly when it is a privately held business are not easy to come by. We suspect that this might have something to do with trade secrets and not wanting to tip off a competitor as to how one makes their product.

Fortunately, and thanks to a marketing brochure produced by Astrographic in the mid-1980s, we have a rare glimpse into the plate making facility the company had created in 1984; a computer-controlled 15,000sq. foot metal division production line in a converted car repair shop in Surrey:

We also think that the layout of the brochure, which we have attempted to create here reveals the steps in the license plate manufacturing process.

First, the retro-reflective sheeting is applied to coils of aluminum, then blanked (image below left). We aren't sure what this means but we think we recognize one of the stamps that Astrographic inherited from Oakalla!

Next, the “close register color” graphics (i.e. “Spirit Flag”) are applied and baked, one color at a time (image below centre). Seems time consuming!

Which brings us to the step in the process that bedeviled Astrographic throughout 1984 and into 1985; the computer controlled embossing equipment that was supposed to ensure accurate definition of numbers and letters with high production speeds (image below right). Watch your fingers!

Once out of the embossing machine, blanked pairs of plates were cut from the embossed strips that can be seen in front of the operator Mike (image at far-left). Again, we think we recognize another piece of machinery from Oakalla in this photo!

One of the last steps in the process is shown in the image at right; each pair of license plates was dipped in clear plastic then baked for long life. No kidding! While only guaranteed to last for 7 years, whatever chemicals that Astrographic was using has allowed some of these plate to remain on continuous use for over 30 years!

The plates shown help us date these photos as they would have been issued as part of the first block of plates issued to motorists in 1985.

A final shot of the embossing machine with the various dies lined up ready for use at the bottom-centre of the image with the aluminum and entering and exiting the machine on either side.


The next big milestone date, and one that was not going to be missed, despite whatever problems were occurring at Astrographic, was March 21, 1985.

This is the day that Rick Hansen would be embarking on his “Man-in-Motion” World Tour and the Premier was scheduled to attend the event at the Oakridge Shopping Centre in North Vancouver.

As Doug Mowat, MLA for Vancouver-Little Mountain (shown at right), and the first member of the Legislature to use a wheelchair for mobility, later explained to the Legislature:

Today in Vancouver we launched the Man in Motion tour, where a great British Columbian and a great Canadian from Williams Lake, Rick Hansen, started his tour for Expo 86. He left the Oakridge Shopping Centre this morning, sharp at 9 o'clock, and he will be going down through California. He's on a 25,000-mile journey to bring hope and awareness to all the disabled in the world, to tell about Expo 86 and to set up a legacy in each country he travels through.

The Premier was there to send him off, and gave to Mr. Hansen the first new official B.C. licence plate: it says "Expo 86" on it. Also there was a contribution from the lotteries branch of $50,000. We're looking to the federal government for some funding. The city of Vancouver has given $100. We're going to be asking for some more funding. He's on his way, and with your permission, Mr. Speaker, we'll bring you reports as he makes his odyssey around the world.

As can be seen in the photo above (left) Premier Bennett presented Rick Hansen with the first set of plates from the new series, which displayed the serial “EXPO-86”, for use on his tour van.

An interesting piece of trivia, these were actually personalized (vanity) license plates that had been stamped on the new “Spirit Flag” base and not the first plates in the series.

That honour belonged to license plate No. “LAA-001”, which is reported to have been issued to the Lieutenant Governor of the time; Robert Rogers.  The close cousin of Hansen's plate, “EXP-086” would have been issued some time in 1998.

The “EXPO-86” plate shown above (right) is from the collection of the Royal BC Museum and it is understood that Astrographic produced multiples of this plate, some for posterity and others as possible mementos for dignitaries attending the “Man-in-Motion” launch event.

On April 3, 1985 (13 weeks later), the press checked in with Jackman again, as he had indicated the new plates would be ready for issuance by early April.

This time Jackman would not say when he thought the plates might be ready and, for the first time, entertained that additional 1979 base plates could be ordered if the province began to run out of license plates before the new “Spirit Flag” plates were ready.

Once again, Astrographic's President, Gerry Andersen, “did not return telephone messages.”

On May 3, 1985 (17 weeks later) Jackman advised that the plates would go on sale sometime this summer but that he would not be pinned down on a specific date as “people get upset if the timetable isn't met [and it] is safer to avoid naming specific dates until the branch can be sure of delivery.”

At that point, the number of the new plates that had been manufactured only amounted to 300,000, or less than half of what the MVB wanted to have an hand before commencing sales.

Finally, on July 2, 1985 (25 weeks later) sales of the new plates began! As a result, plates from the 1979 series would continue to be seen on BC roads up until the end of June 1986.  This was almost 8 weeks after Expo 86 opened on May 2, 1986, which was also the date the Socreds wanted all the blue 1979 series plates off the road by.

In a rather fortuitous twist for us here at, this meant our Granny Johnston's plate was still on her car when we visited for Expo 86. Christopher Garrish CollectionIn exchange for affixing her new “Spirit Flag” plates in July of that year, we got to keep her old blue plates; “BWL-775”, which are the first plates we ever obtained and the one's that started us down this path of license plate collecting!


Christopher Garrish CollectionOne of the most interesting aspects of the early plates produced by Astrographic is that they bear witness to the production challenges the company was facing throughout late 1984 and into 1985.

Four distinct dies types can be seen on plates made during this period and they reveal how Astrographic was experimenting with its production processes in order to turn out the hundreds of thousands of plates required by the MVB.

The plate shown at right (“LAA-044”) is from early in the series and represents the initial manufacturing process employed by Astrographic in which a “male/female” die was used.  This process required the stamping of a die into a matching cut-out and resulted in very crisp and clean characters, but did not lend itself to large volume production.

Astrographic “male/female” Dies

In order to increase production, Astrographic began to experiment with different manufacturing processes. 

The plate shown at right (PCG-969) reflects an attempt by Astrographic to increase production by moving to a system in which a male die is used along with a neoprene (synthetic rubber) top plate. 

This process employed the same male dies as were used in the initial process outlined above (hence the similarities) but, as can be seen, the characters are not nearly as crisp and the paint is somewhat sloppy. This is very similar to the changes that occurred with the ACME made plates in 1978 versus 1980 (see 1979-1985)

Astrographic "neoprene top" Dies

In an interesting twist, the very first “Spirit Flag” plates seen by the public, being the design reveal on September 11, 1984 (“MVD-580”) and presentation to Rick Hansen on March 21, 1985 (“EXPO-86”) each displayed dies intended for use on non-passenger plates, such as Dealer or Commercial Truck.

When the first “Spirit Flag” plates were released to the public in July of 1985, a new “male/female” die type was being used (as shown above) but the non-passenger dies would re-appear on a small block of passenger plates starting with either an “N--” or “P--”.

These plates appear to have been made using the system in which a male die is used along with a neoprene (synthetic rubber) top plate but, as can be seen, the dies are narrower than the other dies used earlier in the series. The random distribution of this die type can be seen in the following gallery: 

Dave Hollins Collection
Dave Hollins Collection
Dave Hollins Collection
Dave Hollins Collection
Dave Hollins Collection
Dave Hollins Collection
Dave Hollins Collection
Dave Hollins Collection
Dave Hollins Collection
Dave Hollins Collection
Dave Hollins Collection
Dave Hollins Collection
Astrographic "non-passenger" Dies

Finally, there is what is considered to be the classic Astrographic die type in which a male die with neoprene top plate has been used, but the paint application is somewhat tighter and more aligned with the stamped letters and numbers.

This die would characterize Astrographic plates for the remainder of the company's contract with the province.

Astrographic "Classic" Dies


Bill Hobbis Collection

While Rick Hansen had been awarded the ceremonial first license plate in the new series (“EXPO-86” - see above), the actual first plate in the series (“LAA-001”) is reported to have been assigned to the Lieutenant Governor, who, by custom, was not actually required to have a license plate as the Queen's representative.

After this, it was reported that the next 98 license plates in the series (e.g. “LAA-002” through to “LAA-100”) were given out to various provincial dignitaries and other well connected motorists. The plates shown at right represent two such examples.


Following the release of the “Spirit Flag” design in July of 1985, it would take only 6 months for the first one million plates in the series to be released, validating the concerns of the Motor Vehicle Branch (MVB) Superintendent, Keith Jackman, that at least 500,000 to 700,000 needed to be in stock to meet the initial demand.

The serial of this first block of plates have the letters “L” through “X” as the first character followed by the letters “A” through “K” as the second and third characters:

1st block of one million plates
Christopher Garrish Collection
Christopher Garrish Collection
Christopher Garrish Collection
Issuing Statistics
July 1985:
LAA-000 to XKK-999
* each block represents approximately 1,000,000 sets of license plates


Two months after the first “Spirit Flag” plates began to be issued, the Vancouver Province newspaper ran a poll of its readers asking if they liked the design of the plates.

Interestingly, 61% responded that, Yes, they did like the look of the new plates, but 29% responded that they did not.  

This is not entirely surprising given the association of the the “Spirit Flag” with the Socreds 1983 election campaign branding and the fact that the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) had won almost 45% of the vote in that election.

As hinted at in some of the first responses to the “Spirit Flag” design (see Letters to the Editor above), some motorists could not abide the idea of having to drive around promoting the Social Credit Party on the vehicle and took to defacing their license plates.

While we here at do not know who the two plates shown above belonged to, we suspect that they were not fans of Social Credit or its Restraint program. On the plate at left, the “Spirit Flag” has been defaced with green spray paint, while the “Spirit Flag” on the plate at right has been covered up with a sticker for the International Woodworkers of America union.


On September 22, 1986, the Alex Fraser Bridge was formally opened. Spanning the Fraser River and connecting Delta and New Westminster, it was the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world at the time.

The day before, an “Open House” had been held and was attended by 20,000 who were able to walk the bridge, take in a vintage car show, raise funds for Rick Hansen's “Man in Motion” tour and to meet Highway Minister Alex Fraser himself!

While it is known that the new Premier, Bill Vander Zalm was also on-hand to officially open the bridge (shown below), it has been suggested that former Premier, Bill Bennett, was also in attendance and one of the items produced to commemorate the opening were license plates with names or initials of the Social Credit dignitaries.

This included a plate that displayed “ALEX”, for Alex Fraser and one that displayed “WRB” for William Richards Bennett.

If true, we can't help but wonder if the “WRB” shown at right (and the reported “ALEX” plate) are extras made by Astrographic or possibly there was a change in plans and the plates were no longer needed for the ceremony (i.e. Bennett resigned as Premier before the bridge was opened), or the whole thing is a fabrication!


In providing Astrographic with a leg-up in manufacturing license plates, the province was hopeful that the company would be able better compete for “contracts from other areas once the first B.C. plates [had] been produced”, allowing it to grow and hire more employees.

This was a vision shared by Astrographic, who prepared numerous prototypes for consideration by jurisdictions across Canada and the United States.

Unfortunately, the company did not have much success in this regard as it was only ever able to secure the contract to make Yukon license plates for 1991 and a limited contract to make plates for Newfoundland in the late 1990s.

Fortunately, some of Astro's prototypes slipped out into the wild and the hands of collectors, allowing us to enjoy what could have been:

According to George Piva, the Astrographic's President from 1994 up until the 2020s, the company's prototype prepared and submitted to Nova Soctia when it was soliciting a new design for its license plates (shown above) was such a hit that that the province offered to buy the design from Astrographic.  Piva countered with a price of $25,000 CDN, or at no cost if the government awarded the contract to manufacture the plates to the company.

However, much like British Columbia, Nova Scotia was seen to be pursuing a policy supporting local manufacturing at this time and Waldale Manufacturing, a local company, was ultimately awarded the contract.  Piva still believes the Astrographic design to be superior to the design Nova Scotia eventually opted to use on its plates.


The second block of a million plates on the “Spirit Flag” base would be issued over the course of the next two-and-a-half years (i.e. January 1986 to approximately September of 1988).  

The serial for this block of plates have the letters “L” through “X” as the first and second characters followed by the letters “A” through “K” as the third character:

2nd bloc of one million plates
Issuing Statistics
Jan 1986:
LLA-000 to XXK-999
* each bloc represents approximately 1,000,000 sets of license plates
Glenn Roemer Collection

The third block of a million plates would be issued over the course of the next two years (i.e. September of 1988 to September of 1990).

The serial for this block of plates have the letters “L” through “X” as the first, second and third characters:

3rd bloc of one million plates
Christopher Garrish Collection
Christopher Garrish Collection
Issuing Statistics
Sep 1988:
LLL-000 to XXX-999
* each bloc represents approximately 1,000,000 sets of license plates


As alluded to above, Astrographic had been cautioned by the Superintendent of the Motor Vehicle Branch, Keith Jackman, not to sign a contract with the province to manufacture the new “Spirit Flag” design before ensuring it would be able to cover its cost.

Astrographic staff, however, felt they could produce the plates at the price they had calculated and signed the contract in the Premier's office in March of 1984.

This fateful decision inflicted financial harm on Astrographic that it would not be able to recover from. When the cost of producing the plates exceeded the value of the contract, Astrographic attempted to renegotiate with the province, but the government was not prepared to budge.

This lead, somewhat ironically, to Astrographic declaring bankruptcy and going into receivership only four years after winning a contract that had been intended to promote and benefit a local B.C. business.

Astrographic was subsequently acquired by Continental Traffic and Industrial Signs of Abbotsford in 1988, which was run by Phil Jackman (who, we believe, was the son of Keith Jackman). Continental also acquired Canadian Traffic Control, another Surrey company at this same time.

Phil Jackman's plan was the same as the previous management team at Astrographic; to compete for license plate contracts in the U.S. market. Holding the company back, however, was a 3.8% tariff that the U.S. applied to license plates made in Canada.

According to Jackman, “we could do $200,000 to $300,000 more in sales a year if we didn't have it” - leading the company to tentatively support the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that was the main issue in the 1988 Federal Election.

In March of 1989, Continental Traffic and Industrial Signs sold Astrographic and Canadian Traffic Control to ... ACME Signalisation of Montreal!  Yes, ACME!  According to news reports, the sale price was $2,500,000 and that ACME, through Astrographic, promptly secured a 5-year contract worth $10,800,000 with BC to produce license plates (to 1994).

As detailed on the previous page (1979-1985), ACME declared bankruptcy in 1994, presenting an opportunity for 4 managers at Astrographic to buy the company and revive its fortunes, which they did and would continue manufacturing license plates for British Columbia over the course of the coming decade.


Entering the 1990s, with the design, production and management of “Spirit Flag” base now established, issuance of license plates would become a routine and predictable event, generating little in the way of interest.

Generally, when license plates appeared in the public consciousness or news, it was now in a supporting role, such as:

  • the introduction of photo radar (1990 & 1995) and attempts by motorists to avoid being issued a speeding ticket (i.e. installing reflecting or distorting covers. Anyone remember the “Photobuster” cover?);

  • an idea by the MVB to scrap front license plates as a cost saving measure (1991);

  • the introduction of AirCare (1992/93) and the use of license plates to manage demand at local testing centres;

  • the success of a fraud-fighting tip line (1994) in busting people plate-switching between vehicles or driving longer than 3-months with Alberta plates;

  • floating the idea of pink plates being issued to bad drivers (1994) and one of the worst editorial headlines of the decade (“Sink the pink idea”);

  • a shocking breach of privacy (1995) by Delta Constable Steve Parker, an anti-abortion advocate who used his access to police computers to check the addresses of “pro-choice” activists by running their license plates;

  • wide-spread theft of decals (1995 & 1996);

  • dudes choosing to not display a front license plate on their car for aesthetic reasons (1995);

  • license plates being obscured by bike racks (1996); and

  • debunking an urban myth (1999) that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) prohibited the province from replacing old, worn-out license plates (it did not).

As a result, what follows is generally a chronicling of license plate issuance between 1990 and 2001, with a few oddball bits of information thrown in. Enjoy!


The fourth block of a million plates would be issued over the course of the next two years (i.e. September 1990 to approximately November of 1992).  

The serial for this block of plates have the letters “L” through “X” as the first and third characters with the letters “A” through “K” as the second character:

4th bloc of one million plates
Issuing Statistics
Sep 1990:
LAL-000 to XKX-999
* each bloc represents approximately 1,000,000 sets of license plates


The fifth block of a million plates would be issued over the course of the next two years (i.e. November 1992 to approximately December of 1994).  

The serial for this block of plates has all the letters being “A” through “K”:

5th bloc of one million plates
Bill Hobbis Collection
Issuing Statistics
Nov 1992:
AAA-000 to KKJ-999
* each bloc represents approximately 1,000,000 sets of license plates
Christopher Garrish Collection
Peter Hill Collection

Error Plate
As can be seen on the reverse of this plate, the missing letter was meant to be an 'H'.


In order to drum-up more business, posisbly by encouraging a “re-plate” (being when an old design is retired by a province and replaced with a new design, thereby requiring that all cars get new plates within the span of 12 months), license plate manufacturers will occassionally send, un-solicited, a new design to a client for their consideration.

This is what happened in the mid-1990s as Astrographic's license plate printing technology continued to improve as did the creativity of its design team. As an alternative to the “Spirit Flag” design, Astrographic's came up with a series of 3 designs that showcased the landscape from various parts of the province; coastal mountain range (below-left), Interior grasslands (below-centre) and northern forest (below-right):

Not surprisingly, as the designs were never adopted by the province, Astrographic's submission was never acted upon. We suspect that a major consideration is the cost of undertaking a re-plate.

The Motor Vehicle Branch (MVB) was also in the process of being rolled into ICBC in this period and the Corporation's funding model has, alas, resulted in it having a clean financial dis-incentive to do anything that might cost it money on modernizing the province's license plates. So, the “Spirit Flag” persisted ...


The sixth block of a million plates would be issued over the course of the next two years (i.e. December 1994 to approximately May of 1997).  

The serial for this block of plates have the letters “A” through “K” as the first and second characters with the letters “L” through “X” as the third character:

6th bloc of one million plates
Issuing Statistics
Dec 1994:
AAL-000 to KKX-999
* each bloc represents approximately 1,000,000 sets of license plates

1996 Decal Variation
To read more about the change in decal colours that occurred for plates expiring in November and December of 1996, visit our Decal page!

The seventh block of a million plates would be issued over the course of the next two years (i.e. May 1997 to approximately April of 1999).  

The serial for this block of plates have the letters “A” through “K” as the first character with the letters “L” through “X” as the second and third characters:

7th bloc of one million plates
Issuing Statistics
Mar 1997:
ALL-000 to KXX-999
* each bloc represents approximately 1,000,000 sets of license plates
Christopher Garrish Collection


A clause in Astrographic’s contract with the province allowed the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (who now administered the plate contract after amalgamating with the MVB in 1996) to require delivery of plates within 30 days. 

In 1998, this clause was exercised on the basis that Astrographic could not provide the required stock within a timely fashion and a short run of plates with Waldale Manufacturing Limited (of Amherst, Nova Scotia) dies in the “KRL” to “ARC” range began appearing on plates that expired in the second half of 1999: 


With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the Corporation was preparing to change manufacturers at the expiration of their contract in 2002 with Astrographics and was essentially conducting a dry-run with Waldale to see what they could produce.

As can be seen in the following gallery, Waldales stamping process resulted in dies and a paint job that were much crisper than what appeared on Astrographic's plates and harken back to the first series of ACME (1978) and early Astro (1985) plates:

Astrographic "Classic" Dies
Waldale Dies


The eigth block of a million plates would be issued over the course of the next two years (i.e. April 1999 to approximately June of 2001).  

The serial for this block of plates have the letters “A” through “K” as the first and third characters with the letters “L” through “X” as the second character:

8th bloc of one million plates
Issuing Statistics
Apr 1999:
ALA-000 to KXK-999
* each bloc represents approximately 1,000,000 sets of license plates
Christopher Garrish Collection


Visitors to the ICBC web-site in the first years of the 21st century will recognise the photo below (right), which is a personalised plate slogan (composed of letters from the alphabet) on a regular passenger plate base.

According to one account, the fellow whose car this appears on worked beside the Astrographic facility in Surrey and befriended an employee of Astro, who eventually made them this plate as a gift.

How photos of the plate on the front of this fellows car made its way to ICBC is not clear, but the benefits of using the plate for promotional purposes is quite clear as the "OMG BBQ" slogan (an internet joke from the period used to mock people who excessively use three letter acronyms) would not have appeared on any other vehicle with the "Spirit Flag" base.

All license plate manufacturers, Astrographic included, routinely run quality control tests on their materials and manufacturing processes.

At right is such a test plate from early in the “Spirit Flag” series (May 2, 1986 to be precise) where, it is believed, Astrographic was testing some sheeting supplied by the 3M Company.

A little known fact, 3M only guarantees its sheeting for a period of approximately 7 years. Another little known fact, the “Spirit Flag” base was only anticipated to be used for approximately 7 years (to 1992), after which, it was assumed, a new license plate series/design would be introduced by the government of the day.

Which makes the fact that approximately 10,000 plates in the AAA-000 format still on the road as of July 13, 2019, fairly impressive and a testament to the manufacturing process employed by Astrographic (and the chemicals it relied on to make the plates)!

Grant, 10,000 might sound like a lot of plates, it is actually infinitesimal in comparison to the 8,000,000 plates in the AAA-000 format made by Astrographic between 1985 and 2001. The precentage that this represents is only 0.12% and those that are still on the road are looking their age:

When compared with the 000-AAA and AA0-00A formats, the 10,000 plates in the AAA-000 format only represents approximately 0.43% of the 2.3 million registered passenger vehicles in 2019.

While we think there is a very strong argument for ICBC to formally cancel the remaining plates in the AAA-000 and get them off the road due to clear legibility concerns, we also recognize that many people get attached to their plates and come to view old-timers from the AAA-000 series as status symbols and proof of long-term residency in the province.

Take the owner of “NBE-800” (issued in 1985 or '86), which likely disintegrated after decades of use, but who seeminly didn't want to surrender the number for sentimentality / status reasons in the mid-Aughts.  Their solution, the creation of their own replacement plate with the same number.

We are unsure what materials were used, but in Vancouver's wet climate we don't expect this plate to last anywhere near another 30 years and assume that the police have already cracked down on its use (how could they not given the design looks nothing like the "Flag"). At some point, ICBC is going to have to formally recall whatever plates from the AAA-000 series remain on the road and replace them with current series plates.


It is assumed that the modification of the "TFX" prefix into "TEX" occurred while this plate was still registered to a vehicle and must have belonged to someone from Texas or who had the nickname of Tex(?).

What is impressive to us here at is that they took the time and effort to try and emboss the "F" into an "E" but then cut-a-corner by using a black sharpie instead of a blue one to colour in their handiwork. Go figure ...


Astrographic Industries Limited: Postscript

An era in license plate manufacturing quietly ended in the summer of 2013 when Astrographic Industries of Surrey, British Columbia decided to close the majority of its license plate making facility.

According to George Piva (shown at right), President of Astrographic at the time and one of the four managers who bought the company after ACME's bankruptcy in 1994, the loss of the BC license plate contract in 2002, while traumatic at the time in terms of staff layoffs, turned into a long-term positive for Astrographic.  

Due to the unforeseen costs of producing a graphic licence plate (i.e. the “Spirit Flag”), the license plate division had become a low-margin business for Astrographic which did not warrant reinvestment in equipment or provide the ability to adequately compensate staff.  

Being free of the BC license plate contract allowed Astrographic to increasingly focus on the graphics side of the business (screen printing, signs, etc.), which has proven to be more lucrative. 

In exiting the license plate business, Astrographic decided to sell its remaining equipment to Waldale Industries of Nova Scotia.  Unfortunately, Waldale subsequently determined that it was not within its strategic interests to have a competitor's machinery floating around and destroyed all of the equipment it received from Astrographic — including the historic Oakalla machinery and dies that the province and procured in the 1950s and sold to Astrographic in the 1980s.

Out of curiosity, we here at took a look on Google Earth to see what had become of the location of the former Astrographics facility in Surrey. As of 2023, Astrographic has consolidated its operations at its facility in Abbotsford and sold its Surrey property where the plates were previously manufactured, and which is currently occupied by a distribution company:


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