British Columbia Amateur (Ham) Radio License Plates

"Ham: a poor operator. A plug."
David Scholes - VE5DY
PHOTO CREDIT: BC Archives (Item H-03287)
Photo Credit: Markus Hansen (VE7BGE) in 1959 - see VE7ca.net
At far left is a photo of David Scholes, past Secretary of the Victoria Short Wave Club, at his radio, above is a photo of the Victoria Short Wave Club in 1932 and near left is a photo of Markus Hansen at his radio in the 1960s.
Simply put, an amateur radio operator is a person holding written authorization to be the control operator of an amateur station. A central facet of this communications system is the call sign. As a member of the Empire, Canada, along with other Colonies, were issued signs beginning with the letters "V" shortly after the Great War. In Canada, the three-character prefixes ranged from VE1 to VE0 and were assigned to the provinces on an east-west basis. Therefore, the Maritimes were VE1, Quebec was VE2 and British Columbia was VE7, and so on …
The first license plates with amateur radio call signs on them were issued by Michigan in 1939. Legislation there allowed for a maximum of 3 letters and 3 numbers, corresponding with the operators sign, but the format proved too complicated for officials administering the program and Michigan discontinued the plates the following year. Support for the plates would remain dormant until the 1950s and the beginnings of the Cold War. The need to quickly identify experienced ham operators in the event of an emergency became an important public safety issue. Florida would issues the first true, or modern ham plate in 1950 to be followed quickly by other state’s, while the first Canadian plates would be issued in 1952.
City of Surrey Archives and Museums Anthony Bennett Collection
At left is a photo of the "Civil Defence Radio" van that was used by the City of Surrey in the mid-1960s for training exercises and included amateur radio gear.
Above, prior to the issuance of official Ham plates by the province it is thought that some operators ordered their own booster plates to be displayed above their regular passenger plates and which displayed their call numbers. Shown at left is a swap meet find that is thought to be one of these plates (measuring 8" x 2.5") and belonged to an operator out of Kelowna.
In British Columbia, the impetus to authorize ham plates can be traced back to the 1948 flood of the Fraser River, when 16,000 people were evacuated from the Upper Fraser Valley, 2,300 homes destroyed or damaged and all rail, road and air connections to the east severed.Ron Garay CollectionLacking any special markings, ham operators with mobile equipment in their cars were turned away by police and other authorities at the flood zone, unable to get to their allotted positions and aid in the rescue operations.For years afterwards, Stanley Carnell, the M.L.A. for Peace River and a ham operator himself, lobbied the Legislature every spring during license plate renewals for a special ham plate. Only belatedly, after Carnell had shamed the provincial government by declaring that every other Canadian province and forty-six of fifty states had the plates did B.C. institute their own in 1963. Attorney-General Robert Bonner was quoted at the time as saying that; “if we are in fact the last province, I think we should review our position.”
It was estimated that of British Columbia’s 1,500 amateur radio operators in 1963, about 120 would apply for the special license plates. As the province’s designation was VE7, this would appear as the first prefix on all ham plates, to be followed by the users own two or three letters to complete the sign. More importantly, ham radio license plates would be the first specialty plates ever issued in British Columbia.
One of the first to obtain a new Amateur Radio license plate in 1963 was Ray Tate of Victoria. Described by his peers as "an extrodanairy member [of the Victoria Short Wave Club], a man of political idealism; the VSWC would never have been the same without him. A knowledgable, talkative electronics man, he was a gifted crafsman who could produce HAM equipment of the finest quality ..." Ray also happened to be the Chairman of the VSWC's Licence Plate Committee in 1963.

An interesting facet of amatuer radio call signs when license plates were first issued; operators could not pick their own letters. These were assigned in sequential order, so all of the two character call signs would have been assigned prior to moving into the first block of three character call signs starting with "VE7-Axx". Which explains why there are only three-character plates in the "VE7-Axx" and "VE7-Bxx" block in the 1960s and into the early 1970s. It is unknown to us at BCpl8s.ca why the "VE7-Cxx" block appears to have been held back in this period ...
1963: First Issue
Christopher Garrish Collection
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
Not applicable
Registered:
Unknown
Over-run:
Not applicable
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
Oakalla Prison
Dimensions:
302 mm x 150 mm
Material:
Steel
Comments: Plates were issued on an "as needed" basis when requested by licenced amatuer radio operators.
Ron Garay Collection

1964: "Beautiful" Slogan
Ron Garay Collection
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
Not applicable
Registered:
Unknown
Over-run:
Not applicable
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
Oakalla Prison
Dimensions:
302 mm x 150 mm
Material:
Steel
Comments: Plates were issued on an "as needed" basis when requested by licenced amatuer radio operators.
1965
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
Not applicable
Registered:
Unknown
Over-run:
Not applicable
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
Oakalla Prison
Dimensions:
302 mm x 150 mm
Material:
Steel
Comments: Plates were issued on an "as needed" basis when requested by licenced amatuer radio operators.
Ron Garay Collection
 
1966
Christopher Garrish Collection
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
Not applicable
Registered:
Unknown
Over-run:
Not applicable
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
Oakalla Prison
Dimensions:
302 mm x 150 mm
Material:
Steel
Comments: Plates were issued on an "as needed" basis when requested by licenced amatuer radio operators.
1967: Canadian Centennial (National Colours)
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
Not applicable
Registered:
Unknown
Over-run:
Not applicable
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
Oakalla Prison
Dimensions:
302 mm x 150 mm
Material:
Steel
Comments: Plates were issued on an "as needed" basis when requested by licenced amatuer radio operators.
To mark the Centennial of Canadian Confederation in 1967, the province implemented a red-and-white colour scheme on its license plates, including the amateur radio plates. Shown at left is an example of the 67 ham plates, brought to us by VE7-BSJ.

The ham radio license plates issued for 1968 are the only one's in this decade in which a dash appears in the middle of the plate.
1968
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
Not applicable
Registered:
Unknown
Over-run:
Not applicable
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
Oakalla Prison
Dimensions:
302 mm x 150 mm
Material:
Steel
Comments: Plates were issued on an "as needed" basis when requested by licenced amatuer radio operators.
Ron Garay Collection
Whereas two-character call signs were generally centered in the middle of the plate in previous years, in 1969 this changed with the result that these call signs were generally centered to the left. There is a known example (VE7LL - see below) where the call sign has been centered in the middle, but it is not known how common this was.
1969
Ron Garay Collection
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
Not applicable
Registered:
Unknown
Over-run:
Not applicable
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
Oakalla Prison
Dimensions:
302 mm x 150 mm
Material:
Steel
Comments: Plates were issued on an "as needed" basis when requested by licenced amatuer radio operators.

For the 1970 base, the dash between VE7 and the remaining characters in the call sign appeared for the last time.
1970 - 1972
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
Not applicable
Registered:
Unknown
Over-run:
Not applicable
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
Oakalla Prison
Dimensions:
302 mm x 150 mm
Material:
Steel

Comments: Plates were issued on an "as needed" basis when requested by licenced amatuer radio operators.Registration decals used on this base are the same as those issued for use on passenger vehicles for the years 1970-1972 .

Ron Garay Collection
With the closure of the Plate Shop at Oakalla Prison in the mid-1970s, there are two types of dies that appear on ham radio plates made on the 1973 base. In the gallery below, the classic Oakalla dies can be seen in the top two rows. In the bottom two rows are plates displaying the "Quebec Dies" associated with ACME Signalisation, a Quebec company that manufcatured a batch of plates for BC in this period.
1973 - 1978
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
Not applicable
Registered:
Unknown
Over-run:
Not applicable
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
Oakalla Prison
Dimensions:
302 mm x 150 mm
Material:
Steel

Comments: Plates were issued on an "as needed" basis when requested by licenced amatuer radio operators. Registration decals used on this base are the same as those issued for use on passenger vehicles for the years 1970-1972 .

Tom Lindner Collection
Christopher Garrish Collection
Once upon a time, there was an expectation that vehicles displaying an Amateur Radio plate would have radio equipment on-board for use in case of an emergency (and could usually be identified by the over-sized antennae's sticking out of the vehicle). Over time, this expectation changed and the plates came to be used more to identify the driver as someone experienced with using radio equipment (and the size of vehicles displaying Ham plates shrunk).
1979 - 1986: "Blue" Base Plate
Ron Garay Collection
Comments
Registration declas used on this base are the same as those issued for use on passenger vehicles for the years 1980-1986.
1986 - 2002: Flag Graphic / Astrographic Dies
Bill Hobbis Collection
Comments
Registration declas used on this base are the same as those issued for use on passenger vehicles for the years 1986-2002. Introduction of "VA7" prefix occurred in 1999.
In 1999, B.C.’s three-letter prefix has been expanded to include VA7. This was done in order to accommodate the growing number of Ham Radio operators in the province (who were also apparently complaining that all the good suffixes were taken). If you would like to see a list of the remaining call signs available in both the VE7 and VA7 format, just following this link: http://www.rac.ca/acl/bc/all.html
2002 - present: Flag Graphic / Waldale Dies
Comments
Registration declas used on this base are the same as those issued for use on passenger vehicles for the years 2002-present. Introduction of Waldale dies occurred in 2002.

Bill Hobbis Collection
Jon Ilnytsky Photographer
The plates shown above are actually valid British Columbia Ham plates despite displaying a "VE3" prefix, which is one the call signs for Ontario. Despite the ICBC web site proclaiming that "amateur radio operators moving to B.C. from another province must apply to Industry Canada for a B.C.-prefixed call sign", it would appear that this has not always been the case (or that the rule is loosely enforced).

Dual Decal Well: 2014
Thanks to this submission from Bill Manners (VA7BMJ) we now know that the HAM base has been switched over to the dual decal as of October 2014 (and possibly sooner than this).

Spicy Ham!
An interesting aspect of the Ham Radio plates is that Call Signs are assigned by the Federal Government (Industry Canada) and the feds do not appear to apply any filters to the combinations of letters that can be applied for.
Conversely, ICBC is usually pretty-straight laced and puritanical when it comes to the slogans it will allow to be displayed on a license plate, but has effectively ceded this oversight to the Federal Government when it comes to Ham Radio plates with some very amusing and, dare we say, subversive results:
We suspect that these are probably some of the only instances where ICBC will allow a license plate to promote fornication (top left), drug consumption (top right) and gun ownership (bottom).


Sources
Mike Ludkiewicz, "First Year of Issue Amateur Radio (HAM) Call Sign Auto License Plates", http://www.pl8s.com/hams.htm (October 25, 2001).
City of Vancouver, "The Great Flood of 1948", http://www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/greaterdot/gv2000/episode3.htm#link3 (October 25, 2001).
Vince H. Seward, "cFlat's Ham Radio License Plates", http://plaza.powersurfr.com/vseward/lplates_ham.html (October 25, 2001).
Joseph Sallman, "Ham Radio License Plates", http://www.canplates.com/hamradio.html (October 25, 2001).
Victoria Colonist Newspaper.
Victoria Times Newspaper.

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