Looking Back


Your Car Needs a License!

When Beaupré School was moved to Onoway (pulled by horses) in 1922, were there any motor vehicles on the road? Who owned Onoway's first car? And what did the license plate on that ground-breaking car look like? Onoway Museum has a small collection of license plates – they make you think about the people that bought them and the vehicles that they adorned.


The first license plates were issued in Alberta in 1912 – about 2,400 automobile owners probably smiled as they paid the fee and fastened the sheet metal plate to their vehicle. Given the condition of roads at that time and the fact that registration expired on December 31 of the year, the owner no doubt took advantage of good spring/summer/fall weather to ramble wherever possible in the countryside.


By 1929, the number of vehicles had increased exponentially so there could be as many as six digits on the plate. The term of the license year was changed from the calendar year to April 1 to March 31. Front and rear plates were required; then just 30 years ago (1991), only the rear plate was required. By then, month/year expiry stickers could be attached to plates upon renewal rather than buying new plates every year. This came to an end in 2021 when these date stickers were no longer required.


License Plates 29 30
Onoway Proprietary Plates

License plates 29 30

These are the oldest plates in the Onoway Museum collection.
Check out the collection in the Main Street room of the museum
and in the Equipment Shed.

Onoway proprietary plates

If you're lucky, you can still see these license plates
on vehicles around Onoway.

The background colour and colour of the lettering changed yearly and the actual registered number of the plate changed format numerous times over the decades – from six digits initially to combined digit/letter combos (ABC-1234).


In 1973-1974 Alberta's license plates took on a new look – our province became "Wild Rose Country". Later on, personalized plates hit the roads and today it's easy to show your loyalty to the Edmonton Oilers via your license plate.

Wild Rose Country plate

Wild Rose Country

Alberta took on a more light-hearted look with these plates. Note that the year tags show that this plate has been around for a while! You even know that it's due for renewal in Oct 91.

In the 2020s we take the license plates and their renewal for granted (you are reminded of the due date via email) but think back to the proud owners of automobiles in the early 20th century and onward. Give your car a warm greeting and watch out for the speed camera glomming in on your license plate as you rush past the radar!



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 Last updated: June 6, 2022