This past summer, the Sunshine Coast Art Council celebrated the sesquicentennial with an art exhibit inspired by Jane Urquhart’s 2016 book, A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told through Fifty Objects.
The show, called 50 Canadian Things, honoured Canada’s 150th anniversary in a similar manner to the book—that is, by telling the country’s history through the display of 50 objects, although with a unique twist. The SCAC, which is dedicated to raising the profile of local artists along British Columbia’s Pacific coastline, realized that while many of the objects from Urquhart’s text can be found across Canada, the logistics and cost of assembling them in one place was too great. Instead, the council invited 50 local artists to interpret those objects in their preferred medium for a group exhibit that ran from August 2 to August 20.
“It was pretty exciting,” Leslie Thompson, fundraising manager of the Sunshine Coast Arts Council, says about the show. “We got a lot of media coverage for it because it was such an interesting exhibition.”
Over 1,000 people came out to see 50 Canadian Things, curated by Sunshine Coast Art Council board member Ian MacLeod, including Urquhart herself. The author spent the morning of August 10 with some of the artists who interpreted her stories; that evening, she gave a reading to a sold-out crowd at the Arts Centre in Sechelt, B.C., surrounded by pieces from the exhibit.
While both the book and the exhibit celebrated Canada, they also shone a light on some of the darker moments in the country’s history. For example, both the story and art piece called Legging deal with the extinction of the Beothuk Peoples at the hands of European settlers in the 1800s: painter Donna Balma included the burnt corners of a milk carton in her interpretation of a dead infant swaddled in leather for its journey to the spirit world.
“Out here in B.C., we called the sesquicentennial ‘150+.’ Our gallery is on shíshálh Nation land, and so we always try to honour that,” says Thompson. “We were looking for a project that included everybody. We wanted a project that was diverse in its storytelling and that didn’t just talk about the last 150 years but went beyond that, which the book does.”
The 50 Canadian Things exhibit was made possible through funding from the Community Fund for Canada’s 150th. The Sunshine Coast Art Council organizes exhibits and cultural activities throughout the year. To learn more, visit them at sunshinecoastartscouncil.com.