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108-year-old licence plate unearthed under Calgary’s Centre Street Bridge

Workers at a Calgary construction site were revved after they unearthed an Alberta licence plate that was more than a century old.  

The 1913 Alberta license plate was found Tuesday under the Centre Streeet bridge. It’s an area where flood restoration work is being done by the City of Calgary.

Via direct message on Instagram, Wilco Southwest told LiveWire Calgary they discovered the 108-year-old plate doing excavation and demolition around the Centre Street bridge.

The plate was found a few metres below grade.

Jeff Baird, senior transportation engineer with the City of Calgary, confirmed the find along the south bank of the Bow River. They’re doing flood barrier work in the area around the Eau Claire Promenade.

“Working in areas like this that do have a history and some historical significance and obviously lots of activity over the last several decades, we plan to be encountering items like this of varying natures,” Baird said.

Archaeologists are on site monitoring the work, Baird said.

“When something like this is found, it really goes into the archaeologist’s hands, and then they work with the province to determine it the next steps and get it catalogued and processed accordingly,” he said.

A bit of history

Baird said there’s been similar work in the area over the years. There have been a lot of different uses in the area, he said. The area’s been disturbed over the past 100 years, but not recently.

The construction of the Centre Street Bridge was done in 1915 and 1916. The original MacArthur Bridge was destroyed in a 1915 flood.

The Bow River pathway also took shape in the area, requiring additional work.

Baird said the plate could have got there during any of that work. Or, it could have been displaced from somewhere else along the river.

“With the archaeologist and obviously working with the province, they’ll be able to hopefully determine a bit more about it,” Baird said.

Justin Cuffe, transportation collection curator at the Reynolds Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, confirmed the authenticity.

It’s a porcelain Alberta licence plate from that era. They have a similar one – number 1312 – on display at their service station.

He said porcelain was used as a protective coating at that time, including on spark plugs and manifolds.

“However, the process was very toxic and was faded out of use by the end of the First World War in favour of simpler stamped and painted plates,” Cuffe said via email.

Of course, 1913 was the year before the start of the First World War. It was also the year before for Turner Valley oil discovery.

Prepped for discoveries

Baird said anywhere the city expects to find artifacts like these, they do enlist the services of an archaeologist.

During the design and planning, they’ll do an analysis on the historical significance of an area. If they’re in an area of historical relevance, they have a process in place and they do expect items to be discovered.

“In areas like this it’s safe to say that there would be some level of oversight just knowing the history through there, and the potential for something to be found,” he said.