When Jason Kinderwater quit smoking he needed something to keep his mind occupied.
Not long after, he found himself in his local registry office. That’s when a complete run of Alberta licence plates, from 1912 to current, caught his attention.
“I had been picking up the odd plate here and there prior to that,” Kinderwater says, ading, “But after seeing that run, I began collecting plates a bit more seriously and it helped me focus on something other than cigarettes.”
Kinderwater has a large commercial steel building on his property just northeast of Grande Prairie. It’s the farm’s shop, and the building features a mezzanine wall approximately 36-feet long by 5-feet high. That’s enough space to display half of the plates in Kinderwater’s collection.
“There have got to be at least 15 categories of plates for Alberta,” Kinderwater says. “Those categories range from passenger vehicle plates, to truck plates, to freight and exempt plates. Some cities and towns did their own plates, too, and you can’t forget motorcycle plates.”
Given his passion for vintage Alberta vehicle licence plates you’ll be surprised to learn Kinderwater isn’t really into the car side of things. The 35-year-old oilfield supply worker has never owned a collector car, but says he would one day enjoy owning a 1972 Chevy Cheyenne pickup, a truck once owned by his uncle.
When that day comes, Kinderwater has the perfect set of plates for the truck. But his passion runs to older, more specialized plates like the one-year-only 1939 tag issued to doctors.
He has one of these doctor plates, and it’s one of the key pieces in his collection, together with a very rare 1944 motorcycle plate.
“It’s pretty difficult to find plates up here north of Edmonton,” Kinderwater says. “We have a sparse population without the density that there is farther south. Plus, nine times out of 10, if you find a plate up here it’s been destroyed.”
He pauses and laughs, “An old metal licence plate is just the right size to nail over a hole in a grain bin.”
Kinderwater started his collection by watching online auction and classified ad sites such as Ebay and Kijiji. He says word of mouth often helps him source out items, but, “It would have been pretty hard to do without the computer.”
About five years ago, Kinderwater managed to purchase a well-established group of plates from a retired collector in Kelowna, B.C.
In that collection was a run of Alberta plates from 1918 to 1932 in matching pairs, meaning both front and rear plates with the same numbers.
“Most guys collect just the singles,” Kinderwater says, and adds, “Because in Alberta, plates from the 1920s and the early 1930s are exceedingly hard to find in pairs.”
And that 1939 doctor plate in his collection? He found that browsing a Calgary garage sale while his wife attended a conference.
“I just happened to be in town, and stopped by a lady’s garage sale,” Kinderwater says. “I saw some old plates, and asked if there were any others. Lo and behold, she had the rare doctor plate, and I bought it from her.”
After spending five years in the Navy, Kinderwater also looks for military plates. Plus, he likes to find Alberta plates from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s that indicate the vehicle was used as an ambulance.
“Ambulances at that time were privately owned, and folks would paint a red or a green cross on the plate to indicate the vehicle was an ambulance,” he says. “So you could find, for example, a 1933 plate with a hand-painted red cross on it; the crosses were not embossed.”
It’s something of a self-sustaining hobby, Kindewater says, because if he does buy an established collection from someone else he can pick and choose the plates he needs. Then, he has extras to trade or sell. He’s dabbled in collecting plates from other provinces, but realized he doesn’t have the room to display them so remains focused on Alberta tags.
“Is there ever a point when you quit collecting?” Kinderwater repeats my question. “Well, even if you have everything, you can always improve the quality because like all things collectible, condition is everything.
“But having said that, it’s all relative. You could have a pair of 1914 plates that look like they’ve been through a fire, and they’d still be rare and desirable.”
Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have a column tip? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or [email protected]