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the architourist

Pro Travel Tip No. 1: The 230 kilometre strip of Trans-Canada highway between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa, Ont., are mean streets: There isn’t a tarpaper shack, a streetlight or a pebble of concrete. Zero indicators of human inhabitance. Most significant to this tale: There are no gas stations. There are, however, big rocks, a zillion evergreens and big, big water.

More on that later.

Wawa is not my destination. I’ve rented a Ram Promaster – that’s a van with a high ceiling – to drive 14 hours to Shuniah – that’s a township on the shores of Lake Superior near Thunder Bay – where a tiny log cabin contains a rare jewel: a fully intact, gently used, 1962-63 Eaton’s “Viking” kitchen in a lovely shade of robin’s egg blue.

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The 1962 Eaton's Viking kitchen in Shuniah Township, Ont.Scott Gordon

Did I mention I just moved and am in need of a working kitchen? And that I never do things the normal way, such as go to a big box store? Regular readers of this space know I have a fascination with the architecture of the postwar period; well, it extends to design objects also. There’s an embodied optimism in them. Sometimes, they look like equipment NASA engineers used to propel Neil and Co. to the moon. My first car, in 1990, was a 1970 VW Beetle; it was a pain in the neck to drive and the heat was patchy at best, but I wanted to experience that car. So this is like that I suppose … plus, the main floor of my new place will contain my wife’s mid-century modern furniture store, Ethel, and we often rent things to film and photo shoots.

Pro Travel Tip No. 2: If one is to embark on a 28-hour round-trip with the ridiculous reward of purchasing vintage appliances, it’s wise to bring an interesting travel companion, or else it’s books-on-tape and/or contemplating the vastness of the universe and the fact that we’re probably alone in it, or, worse, the aliens don’t want to touch the mess we’ve made of things.

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The rented Ram Promaster, tasked with hauling the vintage appliances back to Toronto.Dave LeBlanc

My travelling companion for the next 72 hours is architect Adam Thom of Agathom Co. And, if the kind editors at The Globe and Mail will allow it, I’ll refer to Mr. Thom as “Adam” henceforth, since it’s odd calling someone I now know inside and out (after spending 72 hours straight with him) as a “mister.” While Adam does appreciate interesting design objects – he was a sculptor before he became an architect – he isn’t cooped up with me to look at a wall oven, cooktop, fridge and yellow-laminated millwork I discovered online when I still had a working kitchen. Adam actually loves rocks, trees and big water. “Would ya look at that?” he’d say often when it was my turn to drive, and I, your humble Architourist, would look around and not see anything. “I get a real charge out of this,” he’d continue, and I’d have to ask what, specifically, was recharging his empty architect batteries. “Man, you are such a city boy,” he’d retort in disgust, and I’d keep my mouth shut and not remind him that he grew up in Scarborough.

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Adam Thom and Luther the Cat, in front of a 1967 Plymouth Sport Fury III.Courtesy Adam Thom

Adam also loves adventure. One time, when he was young, he drove a 1967 Plymouth Sport Fury III, which his friend Barclay helped him paint flames on, from California to Vancouver to Toronto. He brought Luther the Cat with him, too. And, when he went off to Egypt for another adventure and put the car in a storage lot, he came back after six months to find the lot had vanished along with his Fury. And even though he’s moved on to vintage Land Rovers, if anyone out there knows where his Fury went, get in touch, would ya?

Pro Travel Tip No. 3: Sometimes, the end-goal in travel, whether it’s a beach or a piece of famous architecture, isn’t what you remember most. It’s the snags and the silliness along the way.

My first snag is that I didn't get the rental Ram the night before, which would’ve allowed us to leave at 6 a.m. But leaving at 10:00 a.m. is nothing compared to what will forever be known as the Jerry Can Incident(s). As Adam and I were leaving the Soo, I said: “You’re the driver, do you think we should fill up?” He replied: “Nah, we’ve got a quarter tank, and this is the Trans-Canada my good man!”

If it wasn’t for Don at the road-salt storage dome (and before you label Don an angel, he charged us $50 for $25 worth of fuel) to get us to Wawa, we would’ve been waa-waa-ing at the side of the road. And, if it wasn’t for the burly guy at the Wawa Timmy’s who sold us another jerry can of fuel, at cost, when we arrived at 9:05 p.m. and the gas station guy wouldn’t turn the pumps back on, well, I shudder to think. Moose might have been involved.

The silliness comes in the form of Adam’s love of authentic taverns. The day before we were to pick up the kitchen, I called the seller, a lovely schoolteacher named Scott Gordon. “Scott, where could we go in Thunder Bay that is so authentic and colourful, one might end up with a black eye?” I asked, using Adam’s descriptor. Now, I should point out that Adam is an aesthete; he doesn’t actually want a black eye, he just wants to lift his pint where it happens to other people (or, as he re-explained to me later, “I like places you’d take your grandfather to, not hipster joints”). Anyhow, we were directed to the Royalton Hotel, where colourful locals gathered around the front door wanted to wrestle us, and, as we were asking the bartender inside if they served sandwiches, an actual fight broke out. We left, quickly, and regrouped at Bay Village Coffee, a hipster café down the block.

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The robin's-egg blue oven, loaded into the van.Adam Thom

Pro Life Tip No. 1: Sometimes more money is spent doing something oneself, especially if the task is not in one’s wheelhouse.

I don’t ship things for a living, so I was aghast when I used uShip, a website that allows cartage companies to bid on shipping jobs, and received quotes ranging from $1200 to $1500 to ship my new-old kitchen from Thunder Bay to Toronto.

Yes, I did the math: I spent $450 on gas (not including the jerry can stuff, which Adam paid for), $775 to rent the Ram van, approximately $260 on two night’s worth of motels and maybe $150 for the meals I paid for. It works out to more than $1600. But the experience was priceless, and every time I look at my kitchen, I’ll smile.

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