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The License Plate of Canada's Northwest Territories Is Shaped Like a Polar Bear

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2017

As some of you know, I very much enjoy license plates, which means I know a lot about license plates -- far more than the average human being. For instance, did you know the final number in a Massachusetts license plate corresponds to the month it expires? What a lovely fact that has no practical use!

Anyway, I say this because I'm not sure exactly how much knowledge regular people have about license plates. For example, did you know that the license plate of Canada's Northwest Territories is shaped like a bear? This is true. Your license plate is rectangular, or maybe ultra-rectangular if you live in Europe, and these people are driving around with a license plate shaped like a bear. Isn't that awesome?

Here's how this all came about. In the late 1950s, North America decided to standardize its license plate size at 6 inches high by 12 inches wide. So every single jurisdiction -- including Canada and Mexico -- now uses license plates that conform to this measurement. Interestingly, a standardized size was never adopted for motorcycle license plates, and those continue to be made in all sorts of sizes, depending on the jurisdiction.

But back to the bear. In 1970, to celebrate the centennial of Northwest Territories, the government there introduced a license plate shaped like a polar bear, presumably because this is the most common creature in the Northwest Territories. This design continues today, although it recently added a graphic background that, confusingly, also contains a polar bear.

In 1999, the Canadian territory of Nunavut was founded by splitting a portion of the Northwest Territories. For several years, Nunavut also used a bear-shaped license plate -- though eventually, the government abandoned it in an effort to create more of its own identity. The result is that Nunavut now uses a normal, rectangular, 6-by-12 license plate, emblazoned with... an image of a polar bear.

Polar bears must be like rabbits up there.

Anyway, the reason the Northwest Territories were able to create this bear-shaped license plate in spite of the 6-by-12 regulation is that the plate perfectly fits the 6-by-12 size, and the bolt holes are lined up in the right place. It just so happens that the thing is shaped like a polar bear.

Naturally, I would love to move to the Northwest Territories so I could get this license plate on my car -- except that the average high temperature in January is 7 below zero, and the average low is 21 below zero, so I think I'll stay put.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The License Plate of Canada's Northwest Territories Is Shaped Like a Polar Bear - Autotrader