Captain John's Harbour Boat Restaurant

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The MS Jadran, the second home of Captain John's Harbour Boat Restaurant in December 2005.
Name: MS Jadran
Owner: Jadrolinija 1957-1975, John Letnik 1975-2015
Operator: Jadrolinija 1957-1975, John Letnik 1975-2015
Port of registry: Rijeka,  Yugoslavia 1957-1975
Builder: Brodogradiliste “Split” Shipyards, Brodosplit, Split, Yugoslavia
Completed: 1957
Acquired: 1957
In service: 1957-1975
Out of service: 1975
Fate: sold in 1975 and operated as floating restaurant in Toronto from 1975-2012; towed from Toronto Harbour May 28, 2015, scrapped
Status: Sold for scrapping to Marine Recycling Corporation, Port Colborne, Ontario (May–August) 2015
General characteristics
Class and type: J Class passenger ferry
Tonnage: 2,564 GT
Length: 89.9 m (294 ft 11 in)
Beam: 13.1 m (43 ft 0 in)
Draught: 4.6 m (15 ft 1 in)
Decks: 3
Propulsion: 2 x Sulzer Type diesel engines
Speed: 18.0 knots (33.3 km/h; 20.7 mph)
Capacity: 191 passengers (159 first class, 32 tourist)

Captain John's Harbour Boat Restaurant (incorporated as 1518756 Ontario Inc.) was a restaurant and banquet hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. For most of its existence it was located in the MS Jadran, a former Adriatic passenger ship that was permanently docked at the foot of Yonge Street at 1 Queen's Quay West on Toronto's waterfront. The ship was moored off on a small laneway at the foot of Yonge Street called Captain John's Pier. Once a prestige destination, the restaurant was open every day of the year, including all major holidays such as Christmas and New Year's Day, for almost 40 years. When it opened, the waterfront was an industrial portland. The Harbourfront redevelopment turned the area into a recreational destination for residents and tourists and a residential neighbourhood; Captain John's helped begin a gentrification process that ultimately claimed it as a victim.[1][2]


The MS Normac, first home of Captain John's Harbour Boat Restaurant, in Toronto Harbour

The restaurant was owned and operated by John Letnik, who came to Canada as a refugee from FPR Yugoslavia in 1957.[3][4] Letnik found work at an Etobicoke country club and ultimately becoming its chef before opening his own restaurant in 1961, the Pop Inn at Dundas and McCaul which he ran for seven years.[5] He came up with the idea of opening an onboard restaurant while travelling to Europe via ship in the late 1960s to visit relatives.[5] He opened Toronto's first floating restaurant aboard the MS Normac in 1970. The Normac had served several years as a fire boat with the Detroit Fire Department and then as a ferry that traveled between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island.

In 1975, Letnik bought the larger Jadran from the Yugoslav government for $1 million and moored it alongside the Normac, operating it as a second restaurant.[6] The Jadran was one of three luxury cruise ships built in Split in 1957; it was one of 3 “J” Class passenger ferries built for Jadrolinija (Jadranska Linijska Plovidba company) at the Brodogradiliste shipyard, its sister ships being MS Jugoslavija and MS Jedinstvo.[7] For several years the Jadran operated as a luxury cruise ship in the Adriatic and Aegean seas[3][8] and later served as a private ocean-going presidential yacht for Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito and his entourage.[9]

The floating ships were one of the first attractions in the area that became known as Harbourfront and was a pioneer in the waterfront's transformation from an industrial port to a recreational, artistic and residential area and tourist attraction.[10] As well as being its owner, Letnik also served as one of its chefs.[6][11] In 1976, Captain John's was the site of the first CHIN Radio annual bikini contest. The event was held at the restaurant again in 1977 before moving to Toronto Island the next year as part of the annual CHIN picnic.[9]

The PS Trillium, which struck the MS Normac in 1981 causing it to sink.

On June 2, 1981 the Normac was struck by the Trillium, a ferry operated by Metro Toronto Parks. The crash was caused by a mechanical failure aboard the Trillium which prevented the engine from reversing to slow down.[12] The crash occurred at relatively slow speed, as the Trillium was in the midst of attempting to dock.[13] None of the 132 passengers aboard the Trillium nor the 290 diners aboard the Normac were injured.[12][13] Repairs were immediately made to the Normac, and for two weeks no leak was observed on board.[13] However, on June 16, 1981, the Normac suddenly sank.[6] This set off a long legal battle between Letnik and the city. The Federal Court initially ruled in favour of the city, as Letnik could not prove the collision caused the sinking, and because he failed to properly maintain the boat after converting it into a restaurant.[13] This decision was overturned on appeal, and Letnik was awarded damages,[13] though reportedly not enough to compensate for the destruction.

While the legal battle was ongoing, the Toronto Harbour Commission ordered Letnik to remove the Normac from its resting site. Thus, in 1986, on the fifth anniversary of its sinking, the vessel was raised at an estimated cost of $100,000.[12] The Normac was later refurbished and served as a floating restaurant in other communities. The Jadran was the sole home of Captain John's after then.[14][15][16]

In the 1970s and 1980s, the floating restaurant attracted prominent diners such as Bob Hope,[10] Brian Mulroney, Mel Lastman, Robert Campeau, The Village People and Steve Stavro, and was a sought after location for weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events.[10][17] However, in its latter years it lost favour as the city's gastronomical scene became more sophisticated and diverse[11] and by 2002 Letnik was seeking bankruptcy protection[10] Later reviews from local papers rated its culinary fare as average,[18] despite the restaurant's boasts of having "the best seafood in town!", and reviews by patrons were decidedly mixed. The restaurant's clientele was primarily tourists with many bus tours stopping at the venue, as well as wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs and other parties.

By the twenty-first century, Captain John's was viewed by some as an out-of-date eyesore hurting the view from and the property values of a neighbouring condominium development.[2]

Bankruptcy, closure and sale[edit]

In 2002 Captain John's filed for bankruptcy protection following a 10-year legal battle with his former common-law wife who the court ruled was entitled to a half-share of the restaurant.[6] Owing over $5 million to various creditors including $3 million to unsecured creditors, Letnik's bankruptcy proposal involved the repayment of all unsecured creditors owed $5,000 or less and a repayment of no more than $30,000 to all other unsecured creditors.[4][19] The restaurant staff, which once numbered in the dozens, was reduced to ten.[6] In 2007, Letnik appealed his property tax bill arguing that the ship is not a "structure" under the law and thus cannot have property tax levied against it. The court ruled against him and a subsequent appeal was rejected as Letnik's unpaid back taxes mounted.[6]

Captain John's Harbour Boat Restaurant moored at the foot of Yonge St in 2011.

Temporary 2008 closure after health department inspection[edit]

In August 2008, Toronto public health officials ordered the restaurant closed after citing it for 11 separate infractions, including "Operator fail to maintain premises free of sewage back-up" and "Operator fail to ensure food is not contaminated/adulterated". The owner was fined $2,160.[20]

Attempts to sell[edit]

In 2009 owner John Letnik put the restaurant up for sale at a list price of $1.5 million but was unable to sell it, even after reducing his asking price to $1.25 million.[6]

In June 2012, the Toronto Port Authority rescinded the lease agreement for the slip where the ship was moored, citing over $500,000 in payments owed for back taxes, rent and utility payments. At the same time the city shut off the boat's water supply, leading the health department to order the restaurant closed due to the staff's inability to sanitize dishes and wash their hands. Letnik was given until July 27, 2012, to remove the boat's gangplank and all restaurant signs, and the port authority invoked marine law ordering that the ship “must refrain from leaving" until its debts to the city and the authority is paid.[21][22][23][24] The Jadran's engine was removed, and the ship was mired in mud, requiring it to be towed as it could not sail under its own power.[24]

In September 2013, with Letnik owing more than $1 million in taxes, licensing fees, and berthing fees, the city initiated the process of seizing the vessel. Letnik declared he would not abandon the ship and might even chain himself to it.[25]

The Toronto Port Authority gave an August 22, 2014 deadline for the Jadran to be removed and scrapped and took bids from ship breakers for the job.[26] The Federal Court declared the bid of entrepreneur James Sbrolla of the North American Seafood Exchange in the amount of $33,501 to be successful. Sbrolla hoped to restore the Jadran to a floating restaurant;[27][28] however, the removal of the ship was delayed due to problems in having the hydro transformer removed,[29] and plans to find a new berth for the ship fell through. Sbrolla then proposed to have tugboats tow the ship out of harbour and move it to a private slip at the foot of Parliament Street where the ship would be stripped of salvageable elements with the remainder of the ship to be scrapped.[10][30] However, the Toronto Port Authority terminated the deal and returned Sbrolla's payment after rejecting his proposal as it would have required tearing the ship apart in harbour, a plan which the authority did not "feel comfortable proceeding with".[31]

Final voyage and scrapping[edit]

The MS Jadran on its last voyage, being towed out of Toronto on May 28, 2015 by tugboats.

The Port Authority returned to court the following spring for approval to seek a new buyer.[32] On May 11, 2015, the Federal Court approved plans to have the Marine Recycling Corporation take ownership of the vessel and tow it to its facility at Port Colborne, Ontario by the end of the month to be scrapped. Due to a slump in world metal prices the value of the ship declined by an estimated $200,000 since the previous summer. As a result, the sale only consisted of the Port Authority, Waterfront Toronto and the condominium developer paying Marine Recycling Corporation to tow and scrap the ship for an undisclosed fee;[33][34][35] however, the estimated cost of the operation is $400,000.[6] On May 28, 2015, the vessel was towed out of Toronto's harbour. Its departure was witnessed by a crowd of several hundred people and an impromptu band who had gathered for the occasion and was broadcast live on CP24.[1][17]

The ship was towed across Lake Ontario and through the Welland Canal to Port Colborne, where Marine Recycling Corporation has its scrapyard, in a journey that began at 10:30 am and concluded at 2:15 the following morning.[36][37] Letnick was invited to travel aboard the ship for its entire final voyage, as a paid consultant, and stood on the ship's deck, waving to the crowd assembled on the dock, as the ship was towed out of its slip.[38] Prior to the ship's departure, Letnick was thanked by Harbourmaster Angus Armstrong and Councillor Norm Kelly for his contribution to the city in creating the waterfront's first attraction at a time when it was an industrial area neglected by tourists and residents alike. Letnik was given a framed photograph of himself, in captain's uniform, in front of the ship in the 1970s and thanked for “a mission well-served and not soon forgotten.”[1][37] The day before the ship sailed, Letnik received a reminder from the city that he still owed $814,656.12 in back property taxes.[1][39]


  1. ^ a b c d "Toronto bids goodbye to Captain John's". Toronto Star. May 28, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Condo developer would like to see Captain John's slip moorings". Toronto Star. July 5, 2013. Retrieved May 28, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Shephard, Michelle (14 August 1995). "Restaurant's claws for success Sinking of his first restaurant failed to dampen Captain John's ambitions". Toronto Star. p. C3. 
  4. ^ a b Smith, Joanna (29 February 2008). "Hidden depths at Captain John's". Toronto Star. 
  5. ^ a b Liu, Karon (January 3, 2012). "I spent New Year's Eve alone at Captain John's". The Grid (republished on author's blog). Retrieved May 29, 2015. [permanent dead link]
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Captain John's: A timeline". Toronto Star. May 28, 2015. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "New tax will hit MPs too". Toronto Star. August 21, 1989. 
  9. ^ a b "Captain John's is readied for its final voyage". Toronto Star. May 22, 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c d e "Captain John's ship to be towed away from Yonge Street slip". Globe and Mail. August 24, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Merringer, Ian (July 7, 2012). "Is Captain John's just jetsam by the lake?". Globe and Mail. Retrieved July 7, 2012. 
  12. ^ a b c "Captain John's boat leaves watery grave". Toronto Sunday Star. 15 June 1986. Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Letnik v Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, [1985] FCJ No 238 (FCTD), rev'd in part [1988] 2 FC 399, 49 DLR (4th) 707 (Fed CA).
  14. ^ Brennan, Pat (April 4, 1986). "Down-under diner might sail once again". Toronto Star. 
  15. ^ Thompson, Allan (June 3, 1986). "City becalms 'Captain' John in bid to raise sunken restaurant". Toronto Star. 
  16. ^ "Captain John's boat leaves watery grave". Toronto Star. June 15, 1986. 
  17. ^ a b "Captain John's removed from waterfront, will be taken to scrap yard". CP24. May 28, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2015. 
  18. ^ Davey, Steven (July 10, 2003). "Abandon ship Waterside hideaway." Archived October 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Now Toronto Magazine. Accessed December 2011.
  19. ^ Ferguson, Rob (March 16, 2002). "Captain John's awash in heavy debts; Restaurant files for bankruptcy protection". Toronto Star. Retrieved December 23, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Establishment Inspection Report". DineSafe. Toronto Public Health. 
  21. ^ Javed, Noor (December 22, 2009). "Final voyage for Captain John's?". Toronto Star. Retrieved December 23, 2011. 
  22. ^ Javed, Noor (February 24, 2010). "Is Captain John's Restaurant too weird to sell?". Toronto Star. Retrieved December 23, 2011. 
  23. ^ Pigg, Susan (27 June 2012). "Captain John's Restaurant ordered to shut down". Toronto Star. Retrieved 27 June 2012. 
  24. ^ a b Pigg, Susan (June 27, 2012). "Captain John's Restaurant could be rusty relic on Toronto waterfront for years despite being shut down". Toronto Star. Retrieved July 7, 2012. 
  25. ^ Alcoba, Natalie. "Captain John's owner refuses to abandon floating restaurant as city struggles to recover $660K in back taxes". National Post. Retrieved 2013-09-11. 
  26. ^ "Captain John's could be destined for scrap heap". Toronto Star. July 31, 2014. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  27. ^ "Captain John's sold for $33,501". Toronto Star. July 21, 2014. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  28. ^,AAAAuO4KaJE~,gatFNwSKdGBwW50JIsnPiOaLt16ztXN4&bclid=3609453870001&bctid=3719592275001
  29. ^ "Buyer of Captain John's fails to make final payments". Toronto Star. August 8, 2014. Retrieved August 9, 2014. 
  30. ^ "Logistics plague Captain John's removal". Toronto Star. August 29, 2014. Retrieved August 29, 2014. 
  31. ^ "Captain John's seafood restaurant floats in limbo on Toronto's waterfront yet again". Toronto Star. October 17, 2014. Retrieved May 28, 2015. 
  32. ^ "Captain John's Restaurant sailing for court — again". Toronto Star. March 11, 2015. Retrieved March 14, 2015. 
  33. ^
  34. ^ "Captain John's ship may finally be about to sail". April 24, 2015. Retrieved May 19, 2015. 
  35. ^ "Floating restaurant Captain John's to be removed by June". CTV News (May 11, 2015). Retrieved May 19, 2015. 
  36. ^ "Captain John's final voyage is over.". 610 CKTB News. May 29, 2015. Retrieved May 29, 2015. 
  37. ^ a b "Captain John's final farewell will involve complex manoeuvring". Toronto Star. May 27, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2015. 
  38. ^ "Captain John's ship tugged from dock after 40 years at the foot of Yonge St., on its way to a Port Colborne scrap yard". National Post. May 28, 2015. Retrieved May 29, 2015. 
  39. ^ Bateman, David (2015-05-28). "Captain John waves an emotional goodbye". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2015-07-02. Retrieved 2015-07-01. Pride of place on the bow throughout the morning was Captain John himself. Ignoring the steely residue that hung in the air, Mr. Letnik emotionally waved goodbye to the watching crowds, wearing his replica blue naval uniform for good measure. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°38′29″N 79°22′28″W / 43.641362°N 79.374387°W / 43.641362; -79.374387