Step Up To The Plate: Part 2

By Andrew Bailey

I am sure that you, good readers, have been waiting all week on the edges of your seats, waiting for the second instalment of licence plate goodness. Well, the wait is over! Below you will find the remaining seven plates that I did not cover last week, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the US border the freezing Arctic.

Let’s kick things off with the Northwest Territories, a vast area of Taiga forest and tundra, and home to about 40,000 hardy souls (18,000 of these living in Yellowknife), as well as 11 official languages. The Territories chose to celebrate their centenary in 1970 by introducing a polar bear shaped licence plate, an amusing and unique choice that has stuck ever since. The design had been an icy blue-on-white since 1986, featuring the slogan of “Explore Canada’s Arctic” (because there sure is a lot of it to explore) A makeover this year changed all that, and the plate now declares N.T. as “spectacular”, featuring a chilly landscape of rocks, trees and a polar bear (can you say picture in picture?) I like this design: it’s funny, reflects the raw nature and power of the Territories, and definitely stands out from the crowd.

Upon splitting from the Northwest Territories in 1999, Nunavut chose to recycle their new neighbour’s design and simply change “Northwest Territories” to “Nunavut”, a logical and economical decision, if a little lacking in imagination. Come on guys, you’ve had twelve years to come up with something now!

Ontario is Canada’s most populous province, home to 13 million Canadians, and the Canadian capital of Ottawa. So how does (arguably) one of Canada’s biggest players chose to advertise itself? Ontario has been “Yours to Discover” since 1982; prior to that motorists were informed by the plate to “Keep it Beautiful”, but clearly someone decided that cleanliness was no longer a problem in the fast-moving world of the 80’s. The slogan invites us to think of all of ON’s assets, both natural and man-made (Toronto and Ottawa included) A crown has been continuously used to separate the characters since at least 1969, giving a not-so-subtle nod to the royalist and colonial past (and present?) of Canada. A french version of the plate (Tant à Découvrir) is available, presumably reflecting the bilingual nature of the National Capital Region.

Prince Edward Island (named after the father of Queen Victoria) has had a bewildering number of plate designs in recent years, including ones telling us to belt up whilst at the wheel, ones proclaiming PEI as Canada’s “Garden Province” (and home of Anne of Green Gables), and one informing us that PEI was “The Place to be in ‘73”. Such indecision! The latest issue shows PEI jumping on the eco-friendly bandwagon and declaring themselves as “Canada’s Green Province”, featuring one of the jurisdiction’s many wind turbines perched upon a sandstone cliff overlooking the sea. This is a nice idea, featuring the province’s rolling hills and rugged coast; however I find the layout and font quite busy, and not particularly bold.

Oh Québec. Trust the French to get political. Their slogan of “Je Me Souviens” (~I remember) has been in use since 1977 (introduced at the height of the separatist movement), with no English version offered to motorists. The plate features no printed graphics, and is one of the last in North America to be completely stamped, slogan and all. The sparse design of blue-on-white (naturally) leaves little to the imagination, presenting the Québécois nation, symbolised by the fleur-de-lys, as very much politically engaged, making sure their francophone voices are heard above the overwhelming anglophone noise surrounding them.

Saskatchewan has chosen to define itself with the natural combination of the Northern Lights and… wheat. SK has been the “Land of Living Skies” since 1998, making a reference to the prevalence of the incredible Aurora Borealis in the Northern parts of the province. Wheat has featured since 1977, reflecting SK’s position as producer of the majority of Canada’s wheat, flax, rye, canola and oats. Now that’s a lot of grain! The green and brown colours reflect the province’s agricultural nature, with the twee serif font suggesting the traditional, rural values held in the hearts of the one million “Saskies” that inhabit the jurisdiction. Incidentally, SK is Canada’s second largest producer of oil after Alberta, but I guess that’s not quite as picturesque.

After having criss-crossed the great country that is Canada, we find ourselves finishing in Yukon Territory, home to 34,000 Yukoners and the Klondike, a region that played host to the Last Great Gold Rush between 1897-99, referenced on their licence plate by the prospector panning for a piece of the action. Gold and the wider mining industry is still a part of Yukon life, although public sector jobs provided by the territorial government now employ 5,000 out of the 12,500-strong workforce. I like the bold italicised font, the colour scheme, and the funny little cartoon: good design guys.

I hope that I have successfully shown that licence plates are more than “just licence plates”: they are a reflection of the political, ideological and environmental diversity that Canada has on offer, that makes Canada the astounding country it is. They are a source of pride, controversy and amusement, a part of Canadian life always changing and always present.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Step Up To The Plate: Part 2

  1. My favourite of this week’s batch is the Northwest Territories one, although I suspect that the Quebec and Ontario plates look the more handsome on a car through being simple and clear. Thanks for another insightful pop-culture tour.

  2. Christine

    Great stuff! This takes me back to my first encounter with Canadian licence plates as a little girl — moving to Ontario to be greeted with the information that it was mine ‘to discover’.
    Perhaps the simple blue and white colours of the Quebec licence plate, the evocative fleur de lys and the ‘Je me souviens’ also celebrate Quebec as incorporating older Francophone traditions (such as elements of vocabulary and accent) now lost to France — New France as the last outpost of Old France?
    I agree that PEI is a little crowded — do they really need a web address on their licence plate? — but it really is such a beautiful place that I would forgive it anything!

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