The Andrew Turnbull Network

License Plate Gallery

The Ontario Project


Passenger is overwhelmingly Ontario's most common registration class, and these plates have gone through numerous design and sequencing changes over the years.

The oldest plates in continuous use feature the slogan "Keep It Beautiful" along the bottom edge, flanked by a sticker box and the embossed date "73." Numbering started at AAA-001. Roughly 3 million sets of plates (covering the A to F serial range) were distributed as part of the original allocation in 1973; the design itself remained unchanged until 1978. Few of these early plates survive on the roads today, making them a rare treat for patient and eagle-eyed spotters.

[Ontario A]

(Mike Franks collection)

[Ontario C]

From the original allocation in 1973.

[Ontario K]

Sloppily repainted

[Ontario L]

(Personal collection)

[Ontario L]

Although the 1973 series of plates has lasted for 45 years and counting, Ontario didn't originally intend it to. The baseplate was initially intended for a five-year life, and the province would have likely reversed the colour scheme and issued a new white-on-blue base in 1978 if they had stuck to their original plans. Instead, however, the series was extended indefinitely. The "73" date was removed at prefix NKK, and the sticker box was also changed to an open style.

[Ontario N]

(Personal collection)

[Ontario R]

[Ontario S]

(Personal collection)

[Ontario T]

[Ontario T]

In late 1982 the slogan on Ontario license plates was changed to "Yours to Discover," also used in contemporary tourism promotions. Around the same time, Ontario adopted a staggered registration system and passenger plates began to be transferred with the owner instead of with the vehicle. The alphanumeric sequence was also nearing the end of the alphabet by this point, not leaving a lot of capacity to work with.

[Ontario W]

[Ontario X]

[Ontario X]

(Personal collection)

[Ontario Y]

The original three-letter prefix series was finally exhausted in 1986. Ontario did the sensible thing and flipped the sequence over to a suffix configuration, allowing for another decade's worth of six-digit combinations. Plates continued to be made of steel in this era, and nearly all of today's surviving examples have been struck by rust or corrosion to at least some degree.

[Ontario A]

[Ontario B]

[Ontario J]

[Ontario K]

A kindred spirit from WI!

[Ontario K]

[Ontario L]

[Ontario N]

This is an actual sequential number.

[Ontario N]

[Ontario P]

[Ontario R]

[Ontario S]

[Ontario T]

[Ontario T]

[Ontario V]

[Ontario V]

The most dramatic visual change to Ontario plates happened in late 1994, when the province adopted preprinted reflective sheeting. The province also removed the painted border, adopted narrower and harder-to-read dies, and switched materials from rustable steel to lightweight aluminum.

[Ontario V]

(Mike Franks collection)

[Ontario W]

[Ontario X]

[Ontario Y]

[Ontario Z]

Plate number 999-ZZZ was reached in 1997. Ontario could have extended the six-digit sequence a little longer by delving into previously-skipped letters like G and Q, but the province instead took the opportunity to switch to an inexplicable "AAAA-000" format. The first prefix issued was AAAB, as the AAAA series was initially withheld from general distribution. This format offers far more capacity than Ontario will ever need, and it's been plodding along at the glacial rate of one leading letter per decade ever since.

[Ontario AA]

First 4-letter series issued, 1997.

[Ontario AA]

[Ontario AB]

Although the format of Ontario plates hasn't changed since 1997, the province has gone through a number of materials and manufacturing changes in the years since to keep collectors and spotters on their toes. The first of these happened in 1998, when the supplier of reflective sheeting was changed from 3M to Avery Dennison. The new sheeting featured a slogan printed slightly smaller and higher than it had been previously, and a registration mark was added in the lower left corner.

The Avery plates proved to be less prone to fading than Ontario's earlier reflective plates were. Unfortunately the Avery plates were also extremely prone to blistering and peeling around the embossing of the serial, with many plates displaying signs of failure after just a year or two. The province was not happy, and the Avery contract was abandoned after five years.

[Ontario AC]

[Ontario AD]

[Ontario AE]

[Ontario AF]

[Ontario AH]

[Ontario AJ]

[Ontario AK]

[Ontario AL]

[Ontario AM]

[Ontario AN]

[Ontario AP]

[Ontario AR]

[Ontario AS]

Ontario reverted to 3M sheeting in 2003. The registration mark was removed, but the higher Avery slogan printing was retained.

The province evidently hoped that this change would be the end of license plates blistering and peeling on Ontario roads. Unfortunately that was not to be, as 3M's material quality has gone to pot and many of the newer plates have been wearing worse.

Sometimes the aluminum corrodes around the boltholes or embossing, causing the sheeting to discolour. Sometimes the face of the entire plate will become dark and striated, losing reflectivity in the process. Still other times, plates look fine for a few years...then the sheeting abruptly turns grey, delaminates from the aluminum, flaps around on the plate like a wet rag, and peels off in large shreds. Many of the Ontario plates of the 2007-11 timeframe are completely illegible today, despite being less than a decade old. This problem isn't unique to Ontario (when I left Wisconsin in 2017, there were thousands of plates there peeling just as badly), but it is magnified by numbers here.

Few of the plates I've seen delaminating, striating, and peeling predate 2007. It seems reasonable to theorize that 3M made an engineering or chemical change to its sheeting that year which had the effect of causing the adhesive to destabilize with sustained heat, humidity, or temperature variation. Garaged plates seem less prone to catastrophic failure than those mounted to vehicles stored outside and subjected to Ontario's wild climate variations; though garaged plates may be more prone to striation without delamination.

Often, the catastrophic failures happen to plates around the sixth or seventh year. 3M also aggressively lobbies U.S. state governments to replace license plates every seven years, ensuring increased sales of license plate materials to pad their pockets. Coincidence? Doubtful.

[Ontario AT]

[Ontario AV]

[Ontario AW]

[Ontario AX]

[Ontario AY]

[Ontario AZ]

The B series of plates began around the start of 2007. This also coincided with the epicentre of bad sheeting.

The French-language slogan tant à découvrir was introduced as an option in this timeframe as well. Unfortunately these plates have continually eluded me for a photo; though a heavily-Anglophone city like London might not be the best place to go about looking for them...

[Ontario BA]

[Ontario BA]

[Ontario BB]

[Ontario BC]

[Ontario BD]

[Ontario BE]

[Ontario BF]

[Ontario BH]

They can't get any worse than this.

[Ontario BJ]

[Ontario BK]

[Ontario BL]

[Ontario BM]

[Ontario BN]

Plates from the latter half of the B series seem less prone to deterioration...for now. It remains to be seen whether they stay that way, or if they're ticking time bombs that will delaminate and peel like the worst of them when they reach their sixth or seventh year.

[Ontario BN]

[Ontario BP]

[Ontario BR]

[Ontario BS]

[Ontario BT]

[Ontario BV]

[Ontario BW]

[Ontario BX]

[Ontario BY]

[Ontario BY]

Temporary registration sticker

[Ontario BZ]

The C series of plates began to appear the week of the ALPCA convention in July 2016. (They couldn't have timed that better if they tried.)

[Ontario CA]

[Ontario CA]

Shortly thereafter, Ontario broke with tradition by having a batch of plates made in Nova Scotia by Waldale, a contractor that supplies license plates for every other Canadian province. These plates were manufactured in the CASA-CATR series and have a distinctly different die set with flat-top 3s and open 6s and 9s. This die set is also used on Nova Scotia, Alberta, and PEI plates, and originated in the '90s when Waldale started making plates for Mississippi as their first stateside contract.

(Yes, Canada is becoming more like Mississippi...though only on license plates.)

[Ontario CA]

First Waldale production run

[Ontario CA]

First Waldale production run

Production resumed in Ontario at the CATS series.

[Ontario CA]

[Ontario CB]

In 2017 it happened again, and another batch of plates were made by Waldale. This time around, however, the contractor replicated the Ontario die set. These plates look nearly identical to Ontario-made plates aside from having slightly squarer corners and shorter boltslots, and were made in the CBJA-CBMF series:

[Ontario CB]

Second Waldale production run

Production resumed in Ontario by the CBMJ series. (Anyone seen a CBMH to break the tie?) And that brings us up to the present.

[Ontario CC]

[Ontario CD]

Or does it? A third batch of Waldale plates (outwardly identical to the second) started appearing in late 2017, partway through the CD series. Perhaps we can look forward to these semi-annual switch-offs happening for years to come...

[Ontario CD]

Third Waldale production run

Personalized Plates

After testing the waters with a scheme where motorists could choose their own combinations in the AAA-000 format for a fee, Ontario began offering proper personalized plates in 1983. Up to six letters or numbers in various combinations were initially allowed, expanded to eight in 2000. These plates carry extremely high registration premiums, so it's probably safe to say that the market for them is limited to people who really, really want them.

[Ontario 007]

Early reflective aluminum issue.

[Ontario KARI]

Early reflective aluminum issue.

[Ontario NUM-ONE]

Featuring an embossed crown.

[Ontario YEH-MAN]

A little worse for wear.

[Ontario T-LEAF]

About as rusty as plates can get.

[Ontario CIJP TV]

This is not an actual TV station.

[Ontario DROWN]

[Ontario MR SKII]

[Ontario 87654321]

Early 8-digit vanity

[Ontario BEACHGRL]

Avery sheeting

[Ontario KAT MOBL]

Peeling sheeting

[Ontario 1-GUEST]

Embossed & screened crowns

[Ontario DAD PAID]

You think?

[Ontario MLIS 10]

Hmm, that's my field of study.

[Ontario MEO 222]

ca. 1977 number remade as a vanity

[Ontario BNL FAN]

Toronto's very own musical group.

[Ontario 28]

Canadian flag graphic

This personalized "plate" is a photograph of a metal plate printed on a decal and stuck to the bumper of a car. It's of dubious legality; though sixth-generation Corvettes aren't conductive to front license plate mounting to begin with:

[Ontario THX AAPL]

Passenger-Related Types

Ontario is notorious for issuing numerous license plate types for occupations and governmental roles that are indistinguishable from regular passenger license plates aside from the letters in the serial. Many of these are quite scarce. Also falling into the realm of passenger-related types are Historic Vehicle plates for vehicles more than 30 years old, and the newer (and increasingly common) "Green Vehicle" plates for plug-in electric vehicles.

[Ontario D]

District Court Judge (incredibly rare)

[Ontario F]

Federal Government

[Ontario H]

Historic Vehicle

[Ontario M]

Medical Doctor

[Ontario BZ]

Provincial Gov't (bumblebee sticker)

[Ontario GV]

Green Vehicle

[Ontario GV]

Green Vehicle

[Ontario VE]

Véhicule Écologique.
Also some political confusion.

Special Graphic Plates

Starting in 1994, Ontario leveraged the capabilities of preprinted sheeting to offer a line of graphical license plates commemorating various organizations, sports teams, and causes. Some commemorate nothing, and are nothing more than extra-fee graphics.

I'm not a big fan of these plates, so I don't go out of my way to photograph them. Virtually all of them look alike at a distance, with an unintelligble blob of a graphic on the left side and an illegible scrunched-together serial on the right side. These also carry high registration premiums, yet they fall apart on the road just as easily as cheaper plates.

[Ontario AN]

Anishinabek Nation

[Ontario CF]

Canadian flag

[Ontario GC]


[Ontario LM]


[Ontario ML]

Toronto Maple Leafs

[Ontario RA]

Toronto Raptors

[Ontario ST]

Star Trek (discontinued, sadly)

[Ontario UE]

United Empire Loyalists' Association

[Ontario UG]

University of Guelph

[Ontario veteran]


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Last update 7 May 2018.