British Columbia Passenger License Plates
1904-1912

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On February 29, 1904, the province enacted the Act to regulate the speed and operation of Motor Vehicles on Highways, which required motorists to have displayed on their vehicle their registration number "so as to be plainly visible at all times during the daylight, such number to be in plain figures not less than three inches in height."
February 29, 1904 - December 31, 1912: The "Pre-Provincial" Era
Pierre Delacote Collection Dave Hollins Collection
City of Kelowna Museum Collection Don Schneider Collection
* Registration numbers were issued in sequential order for the years 1904-1912 and did not
always reflect the number of licensed vehicles.
Numbers
Issued *
Vehicles Licenced
1904:
1 to 32
1905:
33 to 58
1906:
59 to 114
1907:
115 to 275
1908:
276 to 363
1909:
364 to 614
1910:
615 to 1,326
1911:
1,327 to unknown
1912:
unknown
unknown
unknown
unknown
175
263
504
1,026
2,220
4289

Otherwise, motorists were free to be as creative as they wished in the manufacture of their plates, and there are known to be many different types created. In the first year, it appears that a common practice was simply to paint the number directly onto the vehicle. In the photo above, John Barnsley is seen with the No. 1 painted onto an oval disc attached to the side of the vehicle (BC Archives E-00963 - displayed for research purposes only):
There is, however, another photo of the No. 22 which has been found. Can you see it below?
Ok, this is a hard one, so we have zoomed in as best we could and added an arrow to highlight the location of what appears to be 3-inch high numbers in black paint (see image at right). Further helping in this instance is the caption to the photo which describes it as being the interior of the Auto & Cycle Co, East Hastings (1904) and that two of the people in the photo are F.R. Stewart sand William M. Stark. Interestingly, the No. 20 was registered to James Stark (a relation?) on June 23, 1904, while the No. 22 was registered to a W.A. Fenton and I. McIntyre on July 20, 1904. We are going to assume that Fenton and/or Stark are also one of the young gents in this photo.
In later years, the a leather base with house numbers attached it would become the most common way to display ones registration number:
Reflecting the seasonal nature of automobile use in this era, the last registration number issued in 1904 - the No. 32 - was assigned on October 26th to Edward Colley of 54 Government Street in Victoria, while the next number - being the No. 33 - would not be assigned until the following March 8, 1905, to James Dick of Nanaimo. This would change in later years as vehicles were increasingly registered in every month of the year, including December and January.

The No 1059 (below) showed up on an on-line auction in early 2016 as part of an estate sale in Victoria (along with a series of other plates from 1913 to the 1940s). As with all the plates from this era, its provenance is difficult to prove, but it has many of the characteristics of a pre-provincial plate and, if authentic, was issued to a F. Ware of Victoria on July 15, 1910. To review some of the old Provincial Police / Motor Vehicle Branch Registers from this era, simply click on the image at below-right, or Click Here!

One of the best ways to now show examples of home-made plates from the pre-provincial era is through photos from the era in which the various styles of plates can be seen on the back of vehicles. This would not be possible without the commitment of the City of Vancouver to an "open-source digital preservation system" that has allowed access to photos that otherwise probably would have remained out-of-sight to collector's and researchers. We commend this approach and can only hope that it is adopted by other institutions (eh-hem, are you reading this City of Victoria Archives staff?). With many thanks to Pierre Delacote for searching out these photos, we have posted a selection in the left-hand column for your enjoyment (higher resolution versions are available at the City of Vancouver Archives web-site).


SOURCE: VANCOUVER PUBLIC LIBRARY

One of the Sections of the 1904 Act to regulate the speed and operation of Motor Vehicles on Highways, also required motorists to carry on their vehicles "a lighted lamp, or lamps, in a conspicuous position in such vehicle, whenever in motion in any street, alley or public way, at any time after dusk and before dawn, such light to display prominently the number of the permit issued."
In the image shown at right, the No. 43 is clearly shown on the driver's side lantern. This number was issued on May 3, 1905 to the Vancouver Automobile and Bicycle Company. This photo was taken at the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park.
Below, the No. 122 can be see on the lanterns, which was originally registered to Clarence W. Blackstock of Victoria (i.e. Blackstock & Company - real estate) on February 26, 1907. The driver in this particular photo is recorded as being Mileva Todd.

Image Credit: Saanich Archives / Caption: "Mileva Todd driving Model T automobile"
Archives Number: 2007-051-019

An outing to take in a cricket game somewhere in the Okanagan Valley (possibly Penticton area) The No. 550, visible on the lanterns, was registered a Mr D. Lloyd Jones on Spetember 6, 1909.
IMAGE SOURCE: City of Penticton


City of Vancouver

"Dr. A.R. Baker at the wheel of his Model "S" Oldsmobile", and clearly shown on the lanterns on both the driver's side (notice that he is driving on the "wrong side") and the passenger side if the No. 85 which, according to the register at the BC Archives was owned by the Vancouver Auto Cycle Company and was issued on June 11, 1906.
IMAGE SOURCE: City of Vancouver


A Plague Upon Our House!
The scourge of reproduction plates from the pre-provincial era is something that ensnares collectors and car enthusiasts alike and has lead many serious collector's to look upon plates from this era with a skeptical eye due to the high number of reproduction (or fake) plates that have been made over the years.
Some have estimated that for every genuine plate from the pre-provincial era, there is possibly 10-20 fakes. To find out more and to read about one of the more glaring examples of a reproduction passing for the real thing, Click Here!

Pre-Provincial Porcelain License Plate!?!?
Dug up near Nanaimo, it is unclear if the item pictured above is an example of a porcelain plate from the pre-provincial era, or merely a house number. To read more about it, Click Here!
A couple of great photos showing the transition from the pre-provincial era to the standard design era introduced in 1913 with the first uniform plates made of porcelain.
Thanks to the records of the Provincial Police / Motor Vehicle Branch, we know that these numbers were first issued to Cadillacs in Victoria and likley from the same dealership - which explains the similarities in the base, letters and numbers used (probably provided by the dealership from a kit).
Even more interesting, the same fellow, F.B. Pemberton, appears to have owned the vehicles to which some of these plates were attached!

Quick Links:
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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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