Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

History General

A Number of Things

Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty Objects

by (author) Jane Urquhart

illustrated by Scott McKowen

Initial publish date
Oct 2017
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2016
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2016
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2017
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


National bestseller

From one of our nation’s most beloved and iconic authors comes a lyrical 150th birthday gift to Canada

Award-winning author Jane Urquhart explores fifty Canadian objects that tell us who we are in a way never before done. The Globe and Mail praises Urquhart in writing about these objects “with an ethereal, emotional tangibility that is both nostalgic and energetic.” The artefacts include 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 other unexpected and intriguing objects. 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.

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.


About the authors

Jane Urquhart was born in the far north of Ontario. She is the author of eight internationally acclaimed novels, among them The Whirlpool, which received France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger; Away, winner of the Trillium Award, The Underpainter, winner of the Governor General’s Award and a finalist for the Orange Prize in the UK and The Stone Carvers, which was a finalist for the Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award and Britain’s Booker Prize. She is also the author of a collection of short fiction and four books of poetry. She has written a biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery and was editor of the Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories. Her work, which is published in many countries, has been translated into numerous foreign languages. Urquhart has received the Marian Engel Award and the Harbourfront Festival Prize. She is a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Urquhart has received ten honorary doctorates from Canadian universities, including the University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario and the Royal Military College of Canada. She has served on the Board of PEN Canada, on the Advisory Board for the Restoration of the Vimy Memorial and on several international prize juries including that of the International Dublin IMPAC Award, the Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the American International Neustadt Award.

Her most recent novel, The Night Stages, was released in 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the US, McClelland and Stewart in Canada and Oneworld in the UK.

Urquhart lives in southeastern Ontario with her husband, artist Tony Urquhart.

Jane Urquhart's profile page

Scott McKowen is an award-winning illustrator and graphic designer. He works in scratchboard, an engraving medium in which white lines are carved into a black surface with a sharp blade. McKowen has illustrated a number of titles for a wide range of publishers. Based in Stratford, Ontario, he operates the design studio Punch & Judy Inc., which creates theatre posters and graphics for leading performance art companies across North America.

Scott McKowen's profile page


  • Unknown, Walrus Best Book of the Year

Editorial Reviews

“[Urquhart] writes with an ethereal, emotional tangibility that is both nostalgic and energetic.” — The Globe and Mail

“Urquhart’s skill with words provides some wonderful imagery [in A Number of Things].” — Quill & Quire

“The most compelling depiction of the sense of place in human lives.” — Alice Munro

“Urquhart writes with a clear, sensuous poetry, locating her imagery in the watery Irish coastline, the wilderness forests of Upper Canada, and a developing urban sprawl on the banks of Lake Ontario.” — The Times Literary Supplement

“Urquhart shares Davies’ fascination with the roots of creativity and Carol Shields’ bent for tracing the long arc of character’s fateful transit through time. But she possessed a tartly distinctive voice of her own. It is poetic but not self-indulgent, ironic but not arch.” — New York Newsday

“Urquhart’s prose is pure gold, the kind that inspires. It has stunning imagery that revitalizes the familiar or illuminates what’s often overlooked.” — The Winnipeg Free Press

“Measured, dignified, calm on the surface, but containing as much thematic richness and pure literary pleasure as a reader could care to dig for . . .” — Montreal Gazette

“Urquhart has a great gift for the historical novel, for the melding of ideas, events and individuals into a significant whole. Hugely compelling and illuminating.” — Claire Messud, author of The Emperor’s Children

“Poignant, lilting, and emotionally true . . . Urquhart creates her own spell with language.” — Chicago Tribune

“Urquhart’s eerie, intense meditations about damaged seekers tracking salvation balance personal chaos with wider reflections on life and loss achieving an odd beauty and unsettling urgency.” — The Irish Times

“Urquhart excels at making 100 years ago feel as vibrant as yesterday. ” — The Christian Science Monitor

“Urquhart is a writer of great intelligence.” — Scotland on Sunday

“Richly textured prose, and an intricate, many-layered structure.” — Sunday Times (UK)

Other titles by Jane Urquhart

Other titles by Scott McKowen

Related lists