This story was originally told in three non-consecutive installments in this column, spanning April through November 2002. Those three episodes didn't really segue together. The story was recounted as a sort of casual play-by-play, with large gaps in between each chapter. Rather than stitch them together and call it a second-run "Vault" pull, I decided to reconstruct the whole story. I started with those old columns, and added info from the notes and letters from my files. I also scanned a dozen old photographs. I've given the story a "new column" billing, since much of it is being told here for the first time.
In the spring of 2002, I learned that Queen Elizabeth II would be touring Canada. It would be part of her Jubilee celebration, in honour of the 50th anniversary of her coronation. Being the plate geek that I am, I was reminded of the various Royal motorcade plates that Ontario had issued during past tours. The province received more than its fair share of Royal attention, hosting four separate visits from 1981 through 1984. Special motorcade plates were made for each of these years. I wanted to remind Ontario of its past practice, in the hope of seeing a new plate issued for the 2002 visit.
I had a design in mind. I envisioned the reflective red base—normally used for diplomatic purposes—with a giant graphic crown in the centre, flanked by the numbers “20” and “02”. I fired up Photoshop and carefully generated a majestic design that was simple, doable, and attention-getting.
I spent a few days creating an image of my design. Back in 2002, there was no “image search” function on Google, and there were far fewer pictures of plates to find online. I had to cobble together several images from my own files. I even drew some of my final rendering by hand in order to get it as “right” as I could. I didn’t want my image to be dismissed as the amateur job that it was.
I wrote a letter to the Minister of Transportation, enclosed a copy of my design, and freely offered it to him for consideration. I identified myself as plate hobbyist, and a supporter of the Ontario graphic plate program. I was the Webmaster of the ALPCA Website at the time, so I included that role in my correspondence title, to try and lend more weight to my letter. I mentioned the upcoming ALPCA Convention in Niagara Falls, and offered to send a picture of my Ontario licence plate display.
I posted the letter directly to the Minister on May 24. I was pleasantly surprised when I received a letter in return, dated June 6. It wasn't from the Minister, but he apparently read my letter, liked the design, and asked the people responsible for graphic plates to look into it. K. R., an acting director, replied to me:
Given how busy some government offices are, and given how minor an issue this is overall, I was delighted to receive a positive reply.
I attended the 2002 ALPCA Convention in Niagara Falls and had a great time. My Ontario plate display won a first-place award. I took lots of photos. After I returned home, I had some 8x10 enlargements made, and sent them along to K. R. I did it as a way of making myself memorable to the higher-ups in the MTO. It must have made a good impression, because K. R. forwarded my letter and design to the provincial Office of International Relations and Protocol. That’s the provincial arm responsible for event-planning and seeing to the needs of high-profile visitors. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask Protocol about it, but I was glad that K. R. had taken the time to forward my proposal.
I received a nice letter from I. H., the special event coordinator within the Office of Protocol. I. H. thanked me for the suggestion to produce plates for the Queen’s motorcade, and said that they were indeed going to produce some plates. As for the design, I. H. said that they couldn’t use a red background because that was a colour reserved for diplomatic plates, but the final design was yet to be determined. As a token of thanks, I. H. enclosed two formal invitations—completed with gilded provincial coat-of-arms and a serial number—to The Festival of Ontario. The Festival was the province’s signature event, held in the Queen’s honour, and to be attended by Her Majesty herself. I was over the moon, and wrote a grateful letter of thanks.
The Festival of Ontario would be a golden opportunity for me to catch a glimpse of the motorcade plates. Of course, I would be in Her Majesty’s presence, as would hundreds of Ontario-based politicians, celebrities, and executives. An unconnected nobody like me would never normally receive access to an event like this. I tried to push past the “impostor syndrome” that I felt during the weeks leading up to the event.
I took Wednesday, October 9 off of work and headed for the CNE grounds in Toronto with my fiancée. By the time the event started at 4 o’clock, we were ready. We were dressed in business attire, with my fancy SLR camera draped around my neck, and extra rolls of film in my suit jacket. We presented our invitations, and were welcomed into the Festival of Ontario. There were a couple dozen exhibitors along the promenade, representing Ontario’s history, progress, industry, recreation, and multiculturalism. The Queen had not yet arrived, so we were free to wander around. I wasn’t exactly people-watching, but I did encounter retired CBC News anchor Knowlton Nash as we passed each other. Primer Ernie Eves arrived with his entourage. Eves was to be the Queen’s guide to the proceedings, so it wouldn’t be long until she appeared.
Her Majesty’s arrival was announced, and velvet ropes were placed along either side of the promenade, with the general public asked to station themselves behind the ropes. I anchored myself against the rope on an inner corner of the promenade, which gave me a near 270-degree view. I was in a prime spot to catch the reigning Monarch on film.
Her tour of the Festival was planned to last just under an hour. But she was interested in the goings-on, and stopped graciously to chat with exhibitors who were wearing traditional or performance attire. I carefully chose my moments to snap pictures, and managed to capture Her Majesty enjoying her time as she and Premier Eves walked right past me.
After she and her entourage passed by, I ducked outside to check out the motorcade. I knew my original design idea hadn’t been used, but I wanted to see the plates just the same.
I got right up to the motorcade as it was parked, with the Queen still inside the hall for the next half-hour or so. With the permission of a sympathetic officer, I was allowed to squat in between the cars and snap some pictures. I was careful to stay within plain view, with my hands on my camera at all times. Other uniformed police officers saw me, but nobody seemed to mind. I was wearing a guest pass—not to mention one hell of a nice suit—so they allowed me the minute I needed to take my pictures. I may as well have been at the bus station taking a picture of a bus plate. Nobody even flinched.
The red plate on the Queen's champagne-coloured Lincoln is presumably made of plastic, and has the ornate three-dimensional crown affixed to it. I stayed about 10 metres away from the Queen's car while taking pictures, just to play it safe. Good thing I brought my long zoom lens!
I shifted my attention to the 20-02 plates. They were reflective, and made of aluminum. What's super-weird is that they dusted off the old dies for the border, province name and slogan, but the newer numerical dies are used for the number 2002. The design in the centre is a transparent oval-shaped sticker featuring the Jubilee logo. Perhaps there wasn’t time to organize something on the graphic “Ontario” base.
These plates were on the front and rear of most cars in the motorcade, but a few displayed regular passenger plates. All cars were navy blue Lincolns... maybe a dozen, all-told. I asked the uniformed officer where the plates would go afterward, and I got a polite explanation that told me he had no idea at all. I had hoped to ask one of the officers in suits hanging around the motorcade, but by the time that occurred to me, they were inside the cars, idling the engines. It appeared that the Queen might soon be leaving. Rather than loiter outside, I went back indoors to the Festival. I had seen everything I wanted to see. All my boxes had been checked!
Of course, I wanted a plate for my own as a souvenir, but I certainly wasn’t going to be bringing one home on this particular day. It was possible that the plates were still going to be used for a while longer: The Queen and Prince Phillip were scheduled to visit Ottawa from Saturday to Monday; It would be their final stop in Canada before heading home.
I returned home to Ottawa the day afterward, and I made myself available on the weekend to attend Parliament Hill and hear the Queen’s public address. I watched her arrive, but all the vehicles in the entourage had generic passenger plates. There wasn’t a 20-02 plate to be found. My guess was that the Ottawa visit was orchestrated by the federal government, which had made its own security arrangements with the RCMP.
A few weeks after that eventful week, I received a large envelope in the mail, from my contact I. H., in the provincial Office of Protocol. Inside the envelope was a mint Jubilee 20-02 motorcade license plate, along with a simple note of thanks for suggesting that a plate be made for the occasion.
Part of me was honoured at having been able to contribute. Another part of me was proud of having started the ball rolling in the first place. But mostly, I was frothing at the mouth over the fact that I was holding one of my very own. I was thrilled to receive one of the plates, and made a mental note to send a card of thanks. It was a small token on the part of the protocol office, but it meant the world to me.
And then it happened again.
In the next day's mail, I received another large envelope. This time, it was from the Ministry of Transportation. My heartbeat quickened as I tore the paper open. I reached inside and felt a license plate. I pulled it out, and to my utter amazement, I was holding a second Jubilee plate. The attached letter came from M. F., the newly-installed director of the graphic plate program at the MTO. My tenacity had paid off! Four months later, they remembered me and sent me a plate. I just wasn’t expecting it to be the second plate I’d receive! I guessed that the MTO and the protocol office don't maintain regular contact with each other. Otherwise, I wouldn't have received two plates.
However, the burning question remained: What should I do with the extra plate? The impure thought of selling it on eBay for hundreds of dollars occurred to me, but I decided not to, even though the cash boost would have been very timely, to put it mildly. But when you sell on eBay, you make it available to anyone in the world, and I wanted the plate to go to someone I knew, rather than someone outside of Ontario who might not enjoy the plate on quite the same level as someone who lives here.
I owed a favour to Jim Becksted. I told him I had an extra Jubilee plate, and asked if he would be interested in trading for it. I knew he had some cool stuff in his collection, and might be persuaded to let something good go. Specifically, Jim had a couple of reflective invert error plates. I was hoping to get one of them in a one-for-one swap. We talked it over for a few days, but he didn’t want to part with them. He concluded that he couldn't offer anything as a fair trade, and wished me luck finding a good home for the plate.
I decided to approach another collector, this time in my area. Alan Bones is an all-around good guy, and I knew he would appreciate the plate every bit as much as I. The "good home" theory is something we talked about before, and if any plate needed a good home, it was my extra Jubilee plate.
I forgot to bring my want list to Alan’s place, and I couldn’t quite remember which plates and years I needed. Alan was looking through an upper shelf, when he came across a plate he had forgotten about: A 1989 Ontario Open Skies conference plate, number 19. He already had a better one in his collection, and it became a natural choice for a trade option. We decided to make a one-for-one trade. I was thrilled to have an Open Skies plate in my collection! And the very best part is that these plates weren’t simple acquisitions on eBay. They were the end result of a seven-month odyssey of computer work, correspondence, travel, and genuine kindness. That’s my Jubilee Jubilation.