British Columbia Passenger License Plates
1915-1917

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Proposals for the 1915 license plate contract were requested by the Provincial Police in August of 1914 and submissions were received from McClary Manufacturing (which had held the 1914 contract) as well as the Patent Metal Sign Company of New Westminster, MacDonald Manufacturing Company of Toronto, United Enamelling and Manufacturing Company of Los Angeles, the Pacific Coast Stamp Works of Seattle as well as a number of "manufacturing agents".

On August 24, 1914, the contract was awarded to MacDonald Manufacturing, who were reknowned for the quality of the lithography on tinware they produced.

The MacDonlad Manufacturing Company Factory - 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto (circa 1900)
MacDonald Manufacturing were had started producing license plates for the province of Ontario in 1912 and had expanded west in 1914 when they began to prouduce license plates for Alberta in 1914. It would be on the recommendation of Alberta that British Columbia would consider the company for the production of its plates.
MacDonald Manufacturing Limited - Canadian License Plates (1912-1921)
Dave Hollins Collection
Ontario - 1913
Ontario - 1914
Ontario - 1915
Ontario - 1916
Prince Edward Island - 1918
MacDonald Manufacturing were to produce "sixteen thousand (16,000) Auto markers, size five and three quarter inches by tweleve and three quarters ( 5 ¾ X 12 ¾) numbered one to eight thousand (1 - 8,000) in duplicate, red background, with five inch white numbers, with the B.C. Coat of Arms and B.C. 1915 to the left of each marker, at 18½¢ eighteen and one half cents each; Markers to be put in envelopes numbered on the outside, with corrugated card board between each marker, duplicate numbers in each envelope. Markers to be packed in boxes containing twenty-five (25) duplicate numbers, with the numbers of the markers contained therein, marked on the outside of each box."
The order also included 1,250 Demonstration plates (numbered D1 to D625 in duplicate) and 1,500 motorcycle license plates (numbered 1-1500 singly). The Police also requested that the numbers "be bright and clean, that is, the white is a pure white, and the red brilliant, so that the numbers will show up distinctly." All of the "markers" (as they were then referred to) needed to be delivered no later than November 18, 1914.
While never explicity stated by the Provincial Police, it is strongly suspected that the inspiration for the proposed white-on-red colours for the 1915 license plates, were the 1913 Alberta license plates which had used the same brilliant red and pure white colour scheme.

MacDonald Manufacturing replied to the Superintendent on September 1, 1914 advising that they could not produce "auto markers in red", to which Campbell advised that "we would accept auto markers with drak green background and pearl white figures."

1915
Jon Ilnytzky Collection
Bill Hobbis Collection
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
1 to 8,000
Registered:
????
Over-run:
200
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
McDonald Mft.
Dimensions:
323 mm x 146 mm
Material:
Tin
Comments:
Despite the initial order of plates from MacDonald being for Nos. 1 to 8000, the last number registered in 1915 with an expiry date of December 31, 1915, was No. 8199.
* Estimate / Unconfirmed
.
Bill Hobbis Collection
Ron Garay Collection
Pierre Delacote Collection
Roy Miller Collection
Jon Ilnytzky Collection
Christopher Garrish Collection
Ron Garay Collection
Ron Garay Collection
Kamloops Museum Collection
MIke Sells Collection
Ron Garay Collection
Tom Lindner Collection

The No. 2346 was initially registered to a W.A. Callaghan possibly in 1911, and was subsequently transferred to Albert Martin of 2153 5th Avenue West in Vancouver at an unknown date. Note the appearance of the number on the side of the lantern (the license plate is on the front grill of the car). Photo from Vancouver Archives.

The No. 5701 was registered to the Grand Forks Public Works Department from May 22, 1913, through to at least December 31, 1917 (and possibly beyond). Note the appearance of the number on the side of the lantern. Photo from Dallas Doyle.

In early December of 1914, the Superintendent began the process of shipping the 1915 plates out to the various Provincial Police offices across the province. This process gives an indication of the geographic concentrations of motor vehicle ownership in Vancouver at this time as 135 boxes of "auto markers" (3,375 sets) or 42.2% were sent to the Chief Constable in the city.

In response to a query, the Superintendent advised on May 11, 1915, that approximately 7,500 automobile licenses had been issued "to date", however, in response to a separate query, the Superintendent advised on July 15, 1915, that approximately 7,159 vehicles had been registered. On December 23, 1915, the Superintendent responded to a final query, advising there were now 7,463 vehicles in British Columbia.


1915 Reproduction License Plates (Fakes!)
The 1915 plates shown below (i.e. Nos. 1 & 8) appeared on an internet auction site in 2015 and are reproductions originating in Thailand. The No. 1278 showed up in 2020. The base material is tin that has been molded in the same fashion as the originals, but that the front of the plate is a printed sticker:

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1916
Bill Hobbis Collection
Ron Garay Collection
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
1 to 9,000
Registered:
????
Over-run:
350
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
McDonald Mft.
Dimensions:
323 mm x 146 mm
Material:
Tin
Comments:
The last number registered in 1916 with an expiry date of December 31, 1916, was No. 9342.
* Estimate / Unconfirmed
Ron Garay Collection
Jon Ilnytzky Collection
Ron Garay Collection
Bill Hobbis Collection
Jon Ilnytzky Collection
Ron Garay Collection
Kamloops Museum Collection
Ron Garay Collection
Tom Lindner Collection
Roy Miller Collection

1916 Reproduction License Plates (Fakes!)
The 1916 plates shown below (i.e. Nos. 2, 5, 19 & 79) appeared on an internet auction site in 2015 and are reproductions originating in Thailand. The No. 525 showed up in 2020. The base material is tin that has been molded in the same fashion as the originals, but that the front of the plate is a printed sticker:

*     *     *     *     *
1917
Mike Barnsley Collection
Jon Ilnytzky Collection
Bill Hobbis Collection
Issuing Statistics
Initial Series:
1 to 13,000
Registered:
????
Over-run:
????
Issued:
Pairs
Manufacturer:
unknown
Dimensions:
342 mm x 139 mm
Material:
Tin
Comments:
The last number issued in 1917 that expired at the end of 1917 was No. 13-000, which was registered to R.E. Greenwood of 554 Beatty Street in Vancouver on November 28, 1917.
Beacuse of the way in which the MVB distributed plates at this time, there were lower numbers issued later in the year than No. 13-000.
Interestingly, a number of vehicles were registered late in 1917 - even as late as December 31 - but were issued 1918 plates expiring on December 31, 1918. It is believed that this applied to Nos. 13-001 through to 13-006.

Bill Hobbis Collection
Tom Lindner Collection
Pierre Delacote Collection
Kamloops Museum Collection
Tom Lindner Collection
Jon Ilnytzky Collection
Todd Materi Collection
Bill Hobbis Collection
Tom Lindner Collection
Jon Ilnytzky Collection
Jon McKillop Collection
Bill Hobbis Collection
Ron Garay Collection
Ron Garay Collection
Dave Hollins Collection

A New Manufacturer in 1917?
As had occured in previous years, the Superintendent of Provincial Police, Colin S. Campbell, announced the tender for the 1917 license plate contract in various local newspapers with a submission deadline of August 18, 1916 (an example of this Notice shown at right andis from the British Columbia Record):

That a manufacturer other than MacDonald had won the 1917 contract became evident in late 1916 with the appearance of over-run plates (i.e. plates with a number higher than 9,000) that looked significantly different than the plates issued prior to September of 1917:
Ron Garay Collection
Each of the photos above is shwoing a comparison of a plate from the original block of 1916 plates (top) versus an over-run plate (bottom) that came out in the fall of 1916. The change in font and quality of the coat-of-arms is clearly visible in these plates and the over-run plates are also slightly longer than those in the original batch (Photo Credits: Ron Garay & Anthony Bennett).
The No. 9316 was issued on November 24, 1916 to a Mr F. Pemberton of 601 Foul Bay Road in Victoria, with the last number issued in 1916 being the No. 9342 on December 29, 1916 (which would have been valid for all of 3 days - which leads us to wonder; really Mr Watson of Gordon Head, what was the point, could you not have waited a few days?).
Thanks to a subsequent news article from 1920, this change in the design of the 1916 plates was likely a result of the J.R. Tacey & Sons company of Vancouver winning the contract for the production of the 1917 license plates. The article went on to state that Tacey had "been turning out all the auto license plates for British Columbia since 1917."
Unlike MacDonald Manufacturing Company, which had years of experience producing intriciate designs on license plates and other commercial tin products, Tacey was a heating and ventilation company with no such experience, and this can be see in some of the problems that plagues the production of the 1917 plates.
The notice above-left was published on December 11, 1917, in response to announcement by the provincial government that is considering re-using the 1917 plates in 1918, likely due to material shortages associated with war rationing.
In the opinion of the New Westminister Automobile Association, this was a bad idea due to the "cheap plates issued at the beginning of [1917] will have faded out, leaving the numbers undistinguishable."
Whether the paint was poor, or not, the bigger challenge for Tacey & Sons was reproducing the provincial Coat of Arms. As can be seen in the other images above, there are three (and possibly 4) distinct varieties found on the 1917 plates, each an improvement over the previous.
It is hard to pinpoint the change-over point for these different Coat of Arms as there is a significant gap in our photographic evidence for plates between 3000 and 6500, however, we feel that one of the points may be at 3,000 with later points at 10,000 and 12,000.
The other noticeable change in the plates over the course of the year was the wire rim design. Early plates in the series attempted to duplicate the method used by MacDonald Manufacturing, but this too changed as the series progressed.


Above is a 1917 plate that was made in the same fashion as had previously been used by the MacDonalnd Manufacturing Company, in which a combination wire rim & crimped metal edging is used to strengthen the plate.


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Yet another great photo from the City of Vancouver Archives! This time, it is the Calladines Grocery drivers and their delivery trucks taken in December of 1917 - a date which we can confirm by the numbers on the vehicle's licence plates.
City of Vancouver Archives
What is partcularly neat about this photo is that it shows two of the different design variations found on the 1917 plate, with the low quality version common on the low digit plates (i.e. No. 2489) showing noticeable wear-and-tear after only 6 months of use.

The No. 2489 was initially issued to the MacDonald Manufacturing Company Limited of 1001 Main Street in Vancouver in 1913, before being transferred to Nanaimo for a brief period, after which it was registered with Calladines Grocery of 1588 Commercial Drive in Vancouver on June 6, 1917.

The No. 12325 was registered to Calladines Grocery of 1588 Commercial Drive in Vancouver on October 9, 1917.

Numbered License Plate Envelope (1917)
As the story goes, the No. 6991 was never put onto a car and ended up being stored in the original envelope from the Superintendent of Provincial Police for many, many decades. James L. MacKay of Athalmer (near Invermere in the Kootenays) first registered his Ford on March 26, 1914 and renewed it again in 1915 & 1916. But, as can been seen by these plates, they never made it onto the Ford the following year, which probably explains why the Register for this period does not show the vehicle as being on the road in 1917. Especially rare is the example of the original envelope, which predates the creation of the Motor Vehicle Branch.

Having access to the old Registrers maintained by the Motor Vehicle Branch is great for tracking down the name of a person who a plate was issued too, but usually that is all one has; text on a page. In rare instances, such as this, a photo can be found to go the name. In this case it is Charles Weigand (pictured at left) of 1339 Burnaby Street in Vancouver who first issued No. 6434 on December 12, 1913, and renewed it all the way through to 1917 (when the MVB records end). The photo of Weigand is courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives.

1917 Reproduction License Plates (Fakes!)
Some 1917 reproduction (re "fake") license plates are easier to spot than others, but usually require that you hold the plate in your hands in order to appreciate the difference as opposed to trying to make a determination based upon an on-line photograph.
The No. 7442 (below) appeared on an internet auction site in 2015 and, while we were not able to inspect it in person, we believe it to be similar to other reproduction BC tins originating in Thailand in that the base materials are tin molded in the same fashion as the originals, but that the front of the plate is a printed sticker:
An older type of reproduction 1917 BC license plate also exists (possibly from the 1970s or 1980s) and is a little harder to spot as the makers of these plates attempted to use authentic production techniques by creating the numbers, logos and "BC" acronym on the front through a "blotter" process:

Shown at left is a photo of Verne Schuldt taken in 2004 wherein he is holding a very interesting example of a 1917 BC license plate.

The highest BC plate recorded as having been issued in 1917 was the No. 13,015, which was issued to a Mr Judson Clark of 2847 Alder Street in Vancouver on December 31, 1917. We have strong reason to believe, however, that this was likely issued on a 1918 license plate.

Whereas, the No. 14,401 is recorded as having been issued - for the first time! - on February 2, 1918.
Verne's plate seems to suggest that an additional 1,500 plates (11.5% of the original production run) may been manufactured by the province and that possibly it is part of a batch that was never issued.
We find this highly suspect given no other plates are known to exist with a number higher than 13,000, either in a collection or in the photographic record.
Unfortunately, Verne has since passed and his collection was dispersed many years ago amongst other collectors. While we don't want to cast aspersions on a plate that he obviously held in high regard - he chose to include it with his "first find" (being the 1911 Minnesota) for the photo - we can't help but wonder if it is a "blotter" reproduction?
We are hopeful that someone out there has this plate in their collection now and is able to send us a high resolution photo so we can see what this is. The best way to contact us here at BCpl8s.ca is by email at cgarrish@yahoo.com.

While technically an authentic 1917 BC license plate, the specimen below was sold on an internet auction site in 2019, one presumes, for the purposes of being "restored". Given the poor state of the plate, if it is restored any number applied will be completely ficticious, pushing the plate into the realm of reproductions. We await to see if this plate resurfaces at some future point:

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