When I was an undergrad student in London, I worked for a doctor. He was a dermatologist, and he was involved in clinical research of antifungal medication. During my time in his office, which ended up being more than two years, a sizeable chunk of my job revolved around data entry. The Doc borrowed some very large bundles of ledger sheets from the Ministry of Health, on which were archived extensive diagnosis data from all the skin and nail biopsies across the province in a given calendar year. Each sheet was the size of a bath towel, and there were thousands of biopsies to go through. He needed the data transcribed into a spreadsheet. I had to enter the date, city, clinic or doctor name, affected body part, and the diagnosis, if any. I’d work on a certain year, say 1989, for two or three weeks. Once I had it entered in the spreadsheet, I’d let the Doc know, and he’d provide me with a giant stack of sheets from another year. It was not exciting work, and thanks to that job, I have fungal species names like Trichophyton rubrum and Epidermophyton floccosum stuck in my permanent memory. The beauty of the job, though, is that it paid reasonably well and I could set my own hours. I was a somewhat solitary creature back then, and I’d choose Saturday nights so that I could turn on the TV in the doctor’s waiting room and have the hockey game on in the background. From 7pm until the wee hours, I’d repeatedly encounter the names of Ontario towns like Mount Forest or Woodbridge and wonder where they were. I was still new to southern Ontario, having grown up in Algoma district, so I didn’t really know where a lot of these places were.
Fast-forward twenty years: I now know where all these places are. I’ve lived throughout the province, with my mail addressed to postal codes starting with K, L, M, N, and P. I’ve been collecting plates continuously, and I’ve made trips all over the province while doing so. Recently, during one of those trips, I acquired a collection of Road Books, published by the Ontario Motor League. Most volumes in the 1930s contain the licence plate allotments for each issuing office in the province, and it’s been my goal for a few years now to find that info and publish it electronically. So for me, that means I get to exploit an old skill set once again: Transcribing data for all Ontario cities from paper to electronic format. I can’t help but be reminded of my old job. Maybe I’m remembering it more fondly than I should: Data entry aside, I spent countless hours using library photocopiers, minding his kids, and he even had me washing his car. If you’re a fan of the Simpsons, you’ll understand when I sum up my job description by saying I was a “Smithers.”
Back to the present-day entry of the OML data: Where to start? I decided, at the request of my friend Paul Frater, to transcribe the licence plate allotments for the year 1937. I found that the previous allotments for 1930, 1931 and 1933 were done in a more-or-less continuous sweep across the province, starting in Toronto, and meandering east and west, back and forth, like covering a wall with a paint roller. But some of the allotments for 1937 (and 1938, which I posted last year) are just plain weird. It starts out logically enough, but toward the end, there's no real pattern. It’s as if the conversation went like this:
Plate Allotment Boss: “Four o’clock… I think we’ve finished. Thank goodness… I could use a brandy.”
Secretary: “Sir, haven’t we forgotten Kakabeka Falls?”
Boss: “By Jove, old girl, you have forgotten this town! Well, it’s too late to start the list over now. Just add it to the bottom.”
Secretary: “And Ingersoll, Sir? They've not yet been allotted, either.”
Boss: “Ingersoll, eh? Hmm… How close is that to Kookaburra Falls?”
Secretary: “Er… Sir, they are separated by a rather vast distance, indeed.”
Boss: “How vast? They’re in the same county, I should hope.”
Secretary: “They’re over 900 miles apart, sir.”
Boss: “BLAST! Who settles so far from civilized man? Well, add it to the end of the list. And, that will be all for today, I’m sure. I should quite like to go home now.”
Secretary: “Sir, I hesitate to mention it, but we've not quite finished yet.”
Boss: “Another miniscule little crossroad, is it? Well, I’m sure the fine motorist gentlemen of this great province needn't know about yet another filthy, pitiful whistle stop, with its wagon-pulling tobacco-pickers! I should think my list is adequately completed, thank you.”
Secretary: “Perhaps, sir, in the greater interest of completion…”
Boss: “Bah! No one will miss it, I say! Surely, it's of no consequence. What settlement is it, in any event?”
The nation’s capital received an unusually late allotment of plate numbers in 1937, taking most of the plates in the W series. That was the end of the planned distribution, aside from a handful being sent to Toronto——a recurring theme——and a large batch to be held in reserve, presumably for overflow issuance on an as-needed basis. 1938 follows a similar pattern. As for 1939 and onward… I’ll find out when I enter the data.
According to the 1937 OML data, the highest-numbered Ontario licence plate produced should be 80X60. However, I have two higher numbers in my collection. First is number 506X4, which is fairly late in the X series. I also own number 546Y3, which is a member of the not-even-mentioned Y series. This off-scale high number came from an Ottawa collection that originally belonged to an Ottawa resident who kept his plates each year.
My best guess is that more 1937 plates were made and allotted after the OML’s press deadline. I don’t know whether Ottawa received another larger batch of plates, or whether these were reserve plates that were issued in small numbers to multiple cities as a way to remedy local shortages. It will be interesting to see what other off-scale high numbers exist for other years. Indeed, the late-issue 1938 plates starting with A and B, using 1939 dies, are not mentioned in the 1938 OML manual. And for 1930, the highest allotted plate number is PP-200 in Tillsonburg; yet, I have plate number PU-250, which is presumably another late issue made after the press deadline.
As I transcribe additional years of OML allotment data, I’ll publish them in the “Resources” section of The Back Bumper. Enjoy!