A Number of Things: Stories About Canada Told Through 50 Objects – Jane Urquhart

28374401On the Cover: From one of our nation’s most beloved and iconic authors comes a lyrical 150th birthday gift to Canada. Jane Urquhart chooses 50 Canadian objects and weaves a rich and surprising narrative that speaks to our collective experience as a nation.

Each object is beautifully illustrated by the noted artist Scott McKowen, with Jane Urquhart conjuring and distilling meaning and magic from these unexpected facets of our history.

The fifty artifacts range from a Nobel Peace Prize medal, a literary cherry tree, a royal cowcatcher, a Beothuk legging, a famous skull and an iconic artist’s shoe, as well as an Innu tea doll, a Sikh RCMP turban, a Cree basket, a Massey-Harris tractor and a hanging rope, among an array of unexpected and intriguing objects.

Bringing the curiosity of the novelist and the eloquence of the poet to her task, Jane Urquhart composes a symphonic memory bank with objects that resonate with symbolic significance. In this compelling portrait of a completely original country called Canada, a master novelist has given all of us a national birthday bouquet like no other.

Published: October 2016


The Review:

This book contains a list of 50 objects, complete with description, history, significance, and why it relates to Canada as a whole. I was initially concerned that 50 objects would be a marathon, yet somehow this book absolutely engaged me as a reader.

There is such a fascinating variety of objects here and I never knew what was coming next. The book brought a smile to my face when I recognized an object and instilled a curiosity when I didn’t. While some of the items deeply resonated with me – Sir Isaac Brock’s hat, or a cross stitch sample – many did not, but instead exposed me to many of the cultures and histories that make up the fabric of Canada. Urquhart skillfully explains how each object is connected to the people and places of our country and why it is significant. It made me incredibly happy that not only did I feel represented but that I was taught something as well.

The only drawback to the book is that some objects are very strongly personal to Urquhart, and are accompanied by personal anecdotes in the description. While these objects do connect to the larger picture of Canada, they contrast sharply to the objects that are historic and have a textbook description. I had very mixed feelings about the inclusion of personal stories; while this was Urquhart’s version of Canada, the personal touches felt out of place and more appropriate for a memoir.

All drawbacks aside, this is a fascinating collection. It gives a superb snapshot of so many corners of Canada and I was immensely impressed with how many different locations and cultures were represented in 50 objects. This is a great book to read for Canadians, to feel that smile when you read one of Urquhart’s objects and know it’s one of yours, too.

Rating: 4 / 5


“Twisted metal and charred timbers lay in contorted positions around the foundation, and the old clock from the central tower, which purportedly had continued to tick and chime until the tower fell, was smashed on the ground. Rescued furniture and relics were piled haphazardly in the snow, and in some cases were covered in ice themselves. But one thing that was neither rescued nor hosed down and then frozen was the mace. And this was a big problem for Parliament. p 182 “Mace”

“Canadians love their libraries and their small bookstores, and in spite of all efforts to discourage us, we are very loyal to our authors, whether they write about camping in the Canadian wilds or never make reference to a Canadian landscape at all.” p 36 “Books”



3 comments on “A Number of Things: Stories About Canada Told Through 50 Objects – Jane Urquhart

  1. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention! It’s an interesting way to look at our countries history! I’ll be looking forward to reading this!

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