British Columbia License Plates - Expo 86

Expo 86

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Given the theme of the World Exposition held in Vancouver from May 2 to October 13, 1986, was "Transportation and Communication: World in Motion - World in Touch", and coincided with Vancouver's centennial.

Needless to say, with a theme related to Transportation, there was invariably going to be a license plate tie-in and the governing Social Credit administration of Bill Bennett used the event as one of the pretexts for issuing new license plates to all motorists in the province as well as a way to promote Expo.
On March 21, 1985, then Premier Bill Bennett presented Rick Hansen (top-left) with the first set of plates in the new "Flag" series at Oakridge Mall in Vancouver. Hansen was ambarking on his "Man in Motion World Tour" and the plates, which displayed the serial "EXPO 86" were seen as a unique way to promote Vancouver hosting the World's Fair the following year. In the other pictures shown abover-centre and right, the EXPO-86 plate can be seen on Hansen's camper van (you might have to trust us if the size of the images are too low to read the plates).
In addition to the EXPO-86 plate presented to Hansen, the province incorporated the Expo 86 logo into the the registration decals issued to all motorists in 1986 (shown above) and also created special booster plates on the motorcycle base which were distributed to various persons (we are not actually sure who, but assume it was by BC politicians to other politicans and dignitaries they bumped into during their official duties).

The standard booster plate is shown at left while a variation of it is shown above with the additional text of "A.A.M.V.A. Edmonton '85" at the bottom right corner.

One of the more interesting sets of plates to emerge from the Fair are those associated with the NWT Pavilion. There are, effectively, two different types of plate sets:

The first are those actually used on official vehicles associated with the Pavilion and which display a single digit, such as the "EXPO 8" plate shown below. The second, more common type are the "EXPO 86" plates which were either produced as samples or souvenirs (I am not sure which).

Interestingly, there is a known variant of the more common souvenir plate in which normal number dies have been used instead of the smaller dies which were stacked.

The plate shown at top-left was produced by Astrographics on behalf of Universal Exchange, one of seven companies to have purchased the rights to the "Expo 86" logo from Expo's official souvenir supplier, Ace Novelty of Seattle in early 1986.

Universal Exchange was quoted in media reports from the time as having paid a $10,000 performance bond for the rights to use the words "Expo 86" on the plates, with the bond being deducted from Ace Novelty's 25% cut of Universal's gross profits.

Approximately 10,000 of the plates had been produced by February of 1986, and were to retail at souvenir shops within the Expo fairgrounds for $6.98 CDN. According to one of the Director's of Universal, Jerry Ruddock, the plates were proving popular with dealerships as giveaways for customer's buying new cars as well as being mounted on buses operated by Maverick and Grey Line.

Over 25 years later, unissued stock of these plates are commonly posted on eBay for around $6.00 USD.

Shown at left is a prototype of the promotional plate that was eventually produced on the motorcycle base. This one, however, has been made on the regular passenger base and also has the number stamped into the decal box area that woudl be used on the Concours d'Elegance plate.

The booster plate at left is flat and appears to have been stenciled to resemble an embossed plate. It is unknown if this was a one-off item made by a motorist or an un-licensed booster plate made and sold at tourists shops in Vancouver at the time.


Anyone who was a kid during Expo surely remembers the water park with UFO-H2O as the main centrepiece.

Although I can't remember anymore, apparently the water park was in a sunken plaza adjacent to the Ontario Pavilion.

"The design was that of a spaceship piloted by a whimsical green Martian that landed in a fantasy landscape of jumping waters. A new process at the time saw the water treated so that air and impurities were removed. The resulting stronger bond between the water molecules allowed designers to make the water dance in unusual ways few people had seen before" (it is amazing what you kind find on the internet these days).

After Expo concluded, a big auction was held and basically everything associated with the Fair was sold off (for years after I can remember seeing the wire and concrete benches up in Whistler).
While the big stuff, such as the hockey stick in Duncan, were easy to pick out, the fate of UFO-H2O always remained a mystery (at least to me).
Well, weren't we here at surprised when one of our intrepid plate spotters sent in the following images in early 2009:
Turns out the old green fellow was shipped off to Kitimat after the Fair and, 24 years later, has clearly seen better days.
What cracked me up most about UFO-H2O was that the Socreds had been so hell-bent in the lead-up to Expo to get all the blue-and-white 1979 base plates off the roads and replaced with plates sporting the new "Flag" logo they were re-branding the province with (and which, incidentally, bore an uncanny resemblance to their own political party logo), yet here was a prominent attraction within the Expo site sporting an oversized representation of the dull 1979 base! Oh, how I still laugh over that ...

Highway 86
Given the theme of Expo was transportation, one of the attraction was Highway 86, which was a four lane boulevard that rose out of False Creek and contained over 200 cars, boats, bicycles, spaces capsules, airplanes, lunar rovers, and motorcycles. Not all of the vehicles had licence plates, but one of the motorcycles did. When everything related to Expo was auctioned off after the conclusion of the Fair, the purchaser of one of the motorcycles with a plate kindly donated it to a local collector - and this is the plate shown below (right).
Pierre Delacote Collection

Expo 86 "Revue"?
We are not quite sure any more where the "RE VUE" was on the Expo grounds or even what it was (or why it was promoted with a license plate). Anyone have any ideas?

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© Copyright Christopher John Garrish. All rights reserved.