Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant aboard the “M.V. Jadran.” Photo, 2011.
The “M. V. Jadran,” where Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant was located, occupied a prime location on Toronto’s waterfront for many years. When the business venture failed, there was a search to find a new owner, but it was unsuccessful due to the taxes owed and the leasing difficulties imposed by the city. After the water supply to the ship was terminated, the restaurant closed, and in the ensuing years it became an empty rusting hulk. I kept hoping that someone would eventually purchase the ship and restore it, as having a floating restaurant on the city’s shoreline was a valuable asset for both Torontonians and tourists. However, it was not to be.
It was John Lenik who brought the M. V. Jadran to Toronto. Letnik escaped Communist Yugoslavia when he was 15 years old, arriving in Canada in 1957. He worked hard and eventually opened a restaurant named “Pop-In” at Dundas and McCaul Streets. Due to his success, he finally purchased the building where the eatery was located. On a trip to Yugoslavia to visit his family, he sailed from New York aboard the “S.S. France.” On this trip, he fell in love with dining on the high seas and dreamt of opening a floating restaurant in Toronto.
On his return to Toronto, following a two-year search, in 1969 Letnik bought the “M.V. Normac.” It was a small vessel, launched in 1902 in Port Huron, Michigan. It had been used for various purposes, including a Detroit fire boat and also a Tobermory ferry. Letnik sailed it to Toronto under its own steam and moored it at the foot of Yonge Street (1 Queens Quay). He opened his restaurant aboard it in August 1970. Its hull was painted flaming red and the superstructure was white. It was an attractive sight, moored alongside Queens Quay, in a decade when the city’s waterfront was mainly industrial. The Normac was one of the few signs of life at night in an area that otherwise was desolate. I retain fond memories of the vessel, as in the 1970s, during the summer months, Capt. John’s served an all-you-can-eat lobster buffet on the top deck of the Normac. Lobster—ice cold beer—and a harbour view—heaven!
Letnik expanded his business when he purchased the MV (Merchant Vessel) Jadran in 1975. The ship had been launched in 1957 in Pula, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). As a luxury cruise ship, it sailed the Mediterranean Sea, docking at ports along the Aegean and Adriatic Seas, as well as the Black Sea. After Letnik became its owner, he embarked on a 16-day trip to sail it from Yugoslavia to Toronto. Mooring it on Queens Quay, on the port side of the Normac, he commenced business in May 1976. As well as a public restaurant, the ship offered facilities for private parties, weddings, banquets and bar mitzvahs.
In 1981, the Normac was rammed by the Toronto Ferry the Trillium, when it lost power. The hull of the Normac was punctured below the water line. The incident happened when the ship was fully occupied by diners, but no one was injured. A patch was placed over the hole, but it did not seal the opening properly and a week later the boat sank. The insurance money was insufficient to re-float and restore the vessel, so Letnik was forced to sell it. It was towed to Cleveland, Ohio, where once more it became a seafood restaurant named Captain John’s. In 1995, it was taken to Port Dalhousie, Ontario, and renamed The Riverboat. Later, it was called Tokyo Joe’s, but on December 28, 2011 it was gutted by fire.
With the loss of the Normac, Capt. John required more space. He opened the floor above the main deck of the Jadran to diners, and the second-floor deck, named the Dubrovnik Room, was employed for larger functions. However, in the year ahead, business deteriorated, and debts increased due to his battles with the city over taxes. Finally, the ship’s water supply was cut. The back taxes and utility bills were said to be about $740,000 and without water, Capt. John’s Restaurant closed.
In May 2015, the saga of the Jadran ended when it was towed from the harbour and taken to a marine scrapyard in Port Colborne. Losing the ship was a great loss to the city of Toronto.
The Normac in the 1970s (left-hand side of the photo) and the Jadran in the background.
View from the south end of Capt. John’s pier in the 1970s. Both the Jadran and the Normac are visible. The glass-covered boats from Amsterdam that toured the lagoons of the Toronto Islands can also be seen. The boat in the foreground is one of these.
The Normac at dockside in the 1970s.
The stern of the Jadran in the 1970s, gazing north toward the city. A small portion of the Normac is visible to the left of the Jadran’s stern.
The bow of the Jadran in the 1970s.
The Normac on June 18, 1981, after it sank because of being rammed by the Trillium. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, Fl0115, Item 7
The Jadran on July 9, 1984. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 113, Item 67
The hull of Captain John’s ship the Jadran in the 2011, when it still managed to resemble a luxury cruise ship.
Sign advertising Captain John’s in 2011, the sign attached to a shed to the right of pier that led to the gangplank for boarding the Jadran.
The Jadran in 2011, moored at the foot of Yonge Street.
The Jadran in 2011, taken from a patio to the west of the ship, facing the port side of the ship.
Note: The author is grateful to information provided by savecaptainjohn.org. The 1970s photos of the Jadran and the Normac were derived from 35mm Kodachrome slides taken by the author.
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To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern, and Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:
Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.
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Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)
Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016, entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.”
“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage buildings. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016.
One thought on “Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant—Toronto”
Great memories, well told.