In 1967, on the 100th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, every town, city – even every neighbourhood – had a Centennial project. New buildings were built, the Ontario College System was founded and, when you’re visiting any town in Canada, you can bet that any public space with a name like “Centennial Arena” or “Centennial Park” was likely a Centennial Project.
In contrast, Canada’s 150’s anniversary was in 2017 and there were really very few projects commemorating that milestone. However, Harper Collins Publishers and Patrick Crean did have a project. They engaged Canadian author Jane Urquhart to write a book about 50 objects as a tribute. That book, A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty Objects, ably tells the story of Canada through the story of these objects. In the short essay about each object, Urquhart tells the story of the significance of that item for Canada and Canadians. Apart from being a tribute to Canada, each essay is a study in the rich meaning there can be in the things we love.
As well as Urquhart’s well-crafted essays, each object has been drawn by illustrator Scott McKowen. The objects include some things any Canadian would think of, such as skates and a canoe. However, a shoe and a horse are also listed as important Canadian objects and the essays that describe why allow us to read about an important Canadian and an important Canadian Institution – that’s as much as I’ll say.
Urquhart captures the spirit of each object in her writing, although this is the passage that most affected me:
“These Mountain Spirit masks, now in the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, form an immediate relationship with the viewer. Their open mouths are singing the mountain landscape and breathing the mountain wind. Moreover, they seem themselves to be germinating, turning into landscape. Once the masks with their horizontal leafy headdresses were donned, it would have been possible to believe that vines and cedar boughs might emerge from the wearer’s arms and feet, as he danced beneath a canopy of the magnificent trees that are still visible all along Vancouver Island’s astonishing spirit-filled west coast.” (Page 199)