BCpl8s.ca - History & Contributors

This project that we affectionately call BCpl8s.ca is the result of contributions from many individuals who share a peculiar, yet worthy interest and joy in the history of British Columbia license plates.

The origins, of the site date to a graduate course in Canadian history I (Christopher Garrish) took at the University of Saskatchewan in 1999 and which was taught by (the late) Dave De Brou. One of the course assignments that De Brou had us students complete was the creation of a web-page related to their thesis topic's and which we then uploaded to some space hosted by the University on its servers.

A generic shot of a late 1990s computer lab

Dave De Brou

De Brou was a co-founder of the "H-Canada" (an email list serve/discussion board for those studying Canadian history) and conveyed to us his belief that the future of studying history lay on-line. Hence our assignment that November day, and while USask has long since deleted our files from its servers, my page lives on here: http://www.bcpl8s.ca/thesis/

While I enjoyed putting together the thesis page, I immediately recognised that a far more interesting topic for a web-page was going to be my burgeoning license plate collection, which had started to expand significantly after I had discovered eBay and ALPCA in July of 1999 as well as the community of plate collectors involved in these sites that I had not previously known existed.

So, on November 20, 1999, being the Saturday afternoon after that first session in the USask computer lab, I sat down at my home computer and began to put together the first pages of what would become BCpl8s.ca.

Hey, it was cheap student friendly housing on 11th Street East in Saskatoon! My computer lab (a.k.a. apartment) was top floor, north-east corner. I never understood why they put a winter scene on the student cards as, coming from Victoria, winter in the 'toon was brutal and not really a selling feature! Of course I kept it! The Saskatchewan plate that was on my car during my time at USask.

For the first two years, the site was hosted on Angelfire and, unfortunately, the URL is lost to me now as are the files that I uploaded to it as I constantly over-wrote them. That said, I do not mourn this as most of these pages were photo galleries and collections of links (now long dead) with not much other content.

From November of 1999 to December of 2001, the pages that would become BCpl8s.ca were hosted on Angelfire.

This changed in late 2001 when, as a Christmas present, my brother registered "BCpl8s.ca" in my name and I transferred my files to a Netfirms account so my site could be free of advertisements (which were a plague for anyone using a free Angelfire account at this time). With the switch, a re-design of the site was undertaken using my self-taught skills and, for the most part, the template I came up with has remained un-changed over the proceeding 20 years (I no longer have time to upgrade my HTML skills and WordPress seems so limiting, so it is ever onward with Dreamweaver!)

BCpl8s.ca subsequently went "live" on January 6, 2002, a Sunday, but I had been working on it over the holidays in anticipation. Thanks to the Wayback Machine, a log of BCpl8s.ca was made on January 10, 2002 (early days!) and I have posted a screenshot of it at right (click to get a better view of it). As can be seen, the basic concept for the site was pretty much set from day one and has not changed all that much since.

A lot of the early content used for the site had come from newspaper articles I had stumbled across while researching my thesis. The fruit growers historically held their convention every January or February as this was the slow winter season for orchardists and it was easy for them to get away from their farms to attend to industry business. This also happened to be the same time of year that the province required motorists renew their license plates. So, it was quite common to find articles on the forthcoming year's license plates in the same papers that I was looking for articles on the fruit growers convention.

At top, a typical role of microfilm from the UVic library. At right, the Reference Room at the BC Archives.

When I did find these articles, I would make copies of the license plate stories and put these aside for later use. Similarly, when researching at the provincial archives, I used my spare time to read through the files of the Motor Vehicle Branch (MVB), which contained invaluable information.

A physical reminder of the early research from 1997-2001 that informed the creation of BCpl8s.ca as well as the subsequent writing of "Tales from the Back Bumper"; binder upon binder of photocopies from the microfilm collections at UVic. At right is a typical newspaper column, with the one shown being from late January of 1938. As of 2019, many of the same articles have now been scanned and can be searched on-line via the UVic library and saved to your device. Gawd! The time and money I would save doing the same research now!

This research was eventually augmented by local collectors who shared with me their information and stories and let me photograph their collections. All of the first images on BCpl8s.ca had come from my own personal collection and, in an era when digital camera's were uncommon and incredibly expensive, the only way to get a digital image of a plate was by scanning it on a flatbed scanner. Unfortunately, most scanners were less than 12 inches in length, meaning it was impossible to get the full plate unless you were prepared to spend time making two scans and manipulating them with Photoshop.

There was also the slight problem of the plates scratching and scuffing the glass on the scanner - which could show up on subsequent scans and make for a poor looking image. The other solution, was to take a traditional 35mm picture, get the film developed at London Drugs and then scan the photo of the plate to get a .jpeg. Below is just such an example of some of the first photos of another collectors plates (the late Joe Armitage's collection) that I took for use on BCpl8s.ca in 2002.

At left, a typical 1990s scanner with a surface area too small to capture the full 12 inch length of a standard North American license plate. At middle-top, an attempted scan of a 1956 BC license plate. Notice the ends are somewhat truncated. At middle-bottom, a .gif converted from the .jpeg scan of the 1956 BC plate above. Between 2002-06, I added the date onto the image. At right, some of the first plate pictures of someone else's collection I took using 35 mm film. Getting proper focus and avoiding straps and errant fingers were always a problem.

Another early challenge was the size limitation of 50 mb of storage placed on accounts by Netfirms, which was an incredibly limiting factor for an image heavy site like BCpl8s.ca. The work-around to this was to convert .jpegs that I did create of license plates into .gif's as these had a much smaller file size, but were also of noticeably lesser quality. Nevertheless, by 2003-04 I was routinely bumping up against this limit - but chance saved me as Netfirms increased the cap on accounts around this same time (and I have only bumped up against it once since). While I have spent the past 10-15 years trying to weed out these .gif's, I estimate that there are probably somewhere between 500-1000 still on the site (as of 2019).

The Netfirms home page in 2002; for $5/month you got no banner ads, 50 mb of space, 2 email accounts, unlimited FTP uploads and 2gb of monthly bandwidth!

In comparison, the size of all files on BCpl8s.ca as of November 2019, is approximately 9.24 gb.

A site like BCpl8s.ca is never going to be complete and is constantly being added to or revised as new information becomes available.

The Contributors!

The following gallery recognises some of the people who contributed images and information to BCpl8s.ca over the years. I am always happy to add more people, so just let me know if you would like to be included:

Pierre Delacote
A 1978 Quebec plate started the first pile and it took the equivalent to a mother's love to begin a collection with such an ugly duckling but the plate had come from my very first car after I had leaped from France to Montreal that same year. Trying to be original, I believed I was the only plate collector in the world until a mysterious person had contacted ALPCA shortly after my move to Vancouver in 1986. And the rest is history ...
Don Schneider
Started collecting license plates in 1982 when a friend gave him a pair of 1958 British Columbia Centennial license plates.  Joining ALPCA soon after, he traded plates for many years until eBay became the norm for exchanges.  As of 2010, Don is only missing one year - 1929 - to complete an early run of British Columbia trailer plates.  Don is continually working on completing other BC non-passenger type runs - many of which are displayed on the walls and ceiling of his heated garage.  Collecting license plates is "My Passion"!
Tom Lindner (1958-2020)
"Kitimat Tom" was active in the hobby for over 20 years and was a regular at meets across the province, including Burnaby, Tradex, Summerland and Saanich. One of the first supporters of BCpl8s.ca, Tom shared numerous plates from his collection with us, which helped form many of the first pages on this site. Tom was known for being straight-forward and honest in his deals and a person who regularly called collectors across the province to talk life and plates (including this writer when he was living in Australia and despite the time change!). Tom had a knack (supported by an impressive network of contacts) for digging up plates, and helped many a collector fill holes in their collection. He will be missed ...

Bob Miller (left) and Joe Armitage (1924-2008)
Joe operated a number of service stations in the Victoria area, including the Shell at Fort and Yates and pursued hobbies involving vintage cars, license plates and memorabilia. "He always had his eye out for a bargain" and allowed us here at BCpl8s.ca to photograph some of his plates when the site was first starting up.

Alan Gadsden Collection (circa 1974)

The Super Collector!

If not for Len Garrison, many of the plates that are in BC collections today and shown on the various pages of this web-site might not exist. In a 1993 article that appeared in the Vancouver Sun, Len recounted how he got into collecting license plates : "'My dad tells me he was changing his 1943 B.C. plate to put on his 1944 plate. Instead of throwing it in the garbage, I hung the old plate on my tricycle. I was three years old.' His father later built and operated a service station on the Grandview Highway in Vancouver, where young Garrison claimed every discarded plate. These days, he haunts auto wrecker's yards in search of his treasures."

Len with his collection at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) in the mid-1960s. His display won Len a bronze award and first prize in the "collections section" of the PNE Hobby Show.
Jon Ilnytzky Collection
Jon Ilnytzky Collection

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