Today’s the day! Blue numbers on a white background are no longer being issued to passenger vehicles in Ontario. After 47 years, we’re finally making a transition to something substantially new.
I’m not a spring chicken anymore; I'm closer to 50 than 40. In my time, Ontario passenger plates have always been white with blue letters. The colour is changing, starting today, to white characters on two shades of blue. That’s really exciting news to this collector, after such a long period of monotony.
Not much else is changing today, aside from colours, and the fact that the plates are completely flat. The new blue Ontario passenger plates will continue to use the same alphabetic series, which has been running for 47 years and counting. They’ll still be issued in pairs. And for now, they’ll have annual validation stickers. And the older white plates will remain on the road, grandfathered, for a long while yet. This is nowhere near as dramatic as a full-on withdrawal and re-plate. But I can't get over the fact that passenger plates haven’t had a blue background in Ontario since 1971… that’s 49 years! The centre line on our roads hadn’t even switched to yellow from white in ‘71. That’s the year Janis Joplin’s version of “Me and Bobby McGee” peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Top 100. Ken Dryden was in his rookie season! Forty-nine years is a long time for anything to stay the same.
In the days preceding the big roll-out, Dave Grant was trying to find the issuing office that would carry the mid-CMAF series. His mother was issued MAF-613 back in 1977, which Dave still has in his collection. It was a long shot, but Dave was hoping to pinpoint the office that carried CMAF-613. He discovered that both Fenelon Falls and Deep River were issued CMAF plates, but not in the right serial range. With all the phone calls that have been placed to ServiceOntario offices by plate geeks over the past few days, a partial picture is emerging as to the allocation of the new plates, but there are still many gaps in the information. Mike Franks has offered me the information to post on The Back Bumper. I happily accepted... You can view the compiled info here, or check the Resources section of this site. It will be updated periodically as more info becomes available.
ServiceOntario is switching to the new plates overnight, which means that there will be some unissued pairs of the older white format that will never see the light of day. They’ll be returned for shredding. For example, one ServiceOntario office ended their Friday at the CLRA series, which will be boxed up and returned. Exactly how high into the CLxx series did Ontario get? The answer will be pieced together by the sightings of our intrepid sleuths in the field. As of today, the highest "old base" sighting is CLSD-047, as spotted by Jim Becksted. It appears that the CMAA series is the earliest alphabetic series to feature the new blue design.
I’m not among those plate enthusiasts who are heading out to their local ServiceOntario counter this morning to get the freshest of the fresh batch… I use personalized plates on my car, and I can’t yet order them on the new base, so I’m stuck here waiting. But still, I'm determined to enjoy the day vicariously by way of my fellow geeks in the hobby.
The first dispatch from the field came courtesy of Alannah Franks, who made the Saturday morning trip to Bobcaygeon with her hubby Mike, which isn’t a terribly far distance to travel from their home. Alannah had determined that Bobcaygeon would be allotted a batch of plates from the CMAA series. Sure enough (about a quarter after nine, no less), Alannah sent me some great first-look pictures of their new plates!
They’re flat, with numbers screened, produced by 3M, as were the prototypes from last spring.
The white border remains. Some collectors don’t like it. I don’t mind the contrast.
The W in the slogan word “grow” has been revised from the prototype versions. It's simpler without the cross-hatches, and clearer to read. This will make it easy to identify prototypes from mainstream plates going forward (assuming that there are other prototypes out there that do not have obvious media station names).
On close examination, there are trillium monograms that are incorporated into the dot pattern of the background. Alannah provides a close-up shot. None of us ever really saw the prototypes up close, so there’s no way to tell if this feature is a new addition to the general-issue passenger plates, or if it was there all along. They appear only on the left side.
On further close examination, there is a sheeting lot identification number on the right side of the plate. Alannah’s says 16.
The stickers are the same (as expected).
The next plate purchaser to report from the field was Jim Becksted, who announced “Merry Plate-mas” to us as he traded in his old plate for these new ones. The issuing office in Oshawa was allotted a batch that started with number 851, so Jim has the first ones out of the box. Jim reports that his plates do have the trillium monogram along the left side (as opposed to the entire background), and also that the sheeting lot ID number (16) is the same as Alannah's.
John Hayes visited the Stittsville issuing office and came away with the first set from the box. There's something stately about a plate with 001 on it:
Andy Shone visited the ServiceOntario counter in Collingwood, and opted for a French language plate, with the slogan “En plein essor”. The meaning (not a literal transation) behind this slogan is “burgeoning” or “on the rise” or “in full swing”. Andy likes having the letter F to start the alpha combination, and I must say that I find it more catchy than CMBH or the various other alphabetical combinations that are today making their debut on the English-language passenger plates.
Andy, who drives a red vehicle, wasn’t sure whether to go with a frame, to hide the white plate border, or to go without:
In the end, he wanted to hide the border, but keep the slogan visible. A quick trip to Canadian Tire later, he mounted his plate behind an unobtrusive frame, which handsomely conceals the border, but provides a clear view of everything else. Looks pretty sharp!
Dave Steckley made his trip to ServiceOntario relatively late in the day, and got through the door with ten minutes to spare! Like Andy, Dave also elected to go for the less-common French option. Dave says he'd prefer that the border wasn’t there, that the numbers were embossed, and that the province name was bigger. But the major draw has to be the colour... we were starving for something that wasn't white! It was just by coincidence that Dave's plates, issued in Cambridge, are 797... versus 979, which was issued to Andy in Collingwood!
I went out to see if I could spot one in the wild myself on day one, and I managed to see two of them: CMDD-015 (oncoming traffic, so the dash camera couldn’t capture a decent image), and CMDS-900, which happened to be the exact same plate that Dave Grant saw about six hours earlier. When I saw it, it was parked with nobody coming or going, so I managed to get a clear picture. It was a mild winter day, with plenty of salty slush around... the kind of day that coats most cars, and plates, with a dry, light grey film after a couple of hours of driving. I have to wonder if dirty flat plates, in an Ontario winter, will be less legible than what we have now? Then again, many of our embossed plates are illegible because of their infamous peeling problem. Only time will tell if there's an advantage.
After nightfall, Jim went outside to take a picture of his plate with a flash. The results were surprising: The plate background was quite reflective, but the screened numbers, applied atop the background, don't actively reflect light, and have a comparatively dark appearance under a flash.
When Andy saw that, he went outside to try it himself. His own results were variable. At first glance, it seems to depend on the angle of the flash, and the make of the camera probably has an effect as well. But really, it's all about distance. The picture at left was taken closer to the car, and the non-reflective numbers appear brighter. The picture at right was taken straight-on, but the flash was further away, so the non-reflective numbers are darker.
This is because of the inverse square law of optics: Light intensity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the viewer (the camera lens) and the source (the plate, as the light bounces from it). In other words: If you double your distance from a light source, you see 1/4 of the light intensity. At triple the distance, you see 1/9 of the intensity. At quadruple distance, it's 1/16 intensity. So the further back you place the camera, the darker the non-reflective characters will be. Jim's camera was further away from the plate than was Andy's. The background will still be bright, because it's designed to bounce more light back to the viewer in a way that the characters don't. Who says science isn't useful? Wait until I tell my students.
And there you have it: Day one of the “A Place to Grow” era, from the viewpoint of several plate enthusiasts across the province who were here to experience it first-hand. Overall, they're not perfect, but I like them. It's an interesting change after 47 years. I look forward to re-ordering my personalized plates on this base, and seeing what's in store for trucks, green vehicles, dealers, diplomats, motorcycles, and other types!