The story of Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant in Toronto
The MV Jadran, where Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant was located, has occupied a prime location on Toronto’s waterfront for many years.
When the business venture failed, there was a search for a new owner, but it was unsuccessful due to taxes owed and rental difficulties imposed by the city.
After the ship’s water supply was cut off, the restaurant closed, and in the years that followed it became an empty, rusty hulk.
I still hoped that someone would eventually buy the ship and restore it, as having a floating restaurant on the city shore was a great asset to Torontonians and tourists alike. However, that was not to be the case.
It was John Lenik who brought the MV Jadran to Toronto. Letnik fled Communist Yugoslavia at the age of 15 and arrived in Canada in 1957.
He worked hard and eventually opened a restaurant called “Pop-In” on Dundas and McCaul streets. Due to his success, he eventually bought the building where the restaurant was located.
On a trip to Yugoslavia to visit his family, he left New York aboard the SS France. On this trip, he fell in love with fine dining on the high seas and dreamed of opening a floating restaurant in Toronto.
On his return to Toronto, after a two-year search, Letnik purchased the MV Normac in 1969. It was a small ship, launched in 1902 at Port Huron, Michigan. It had been used for a variety of purposes including a fire boat from Detroit and also a ferry from Tobermory.
Letnik sailed her to Toronto on her own and moored her at the foot of Yonge Street (1 Queens Quay). He opened his restaurant on board in August 1970. Her hull was painted a flaming red and the superstructure was white.
It was an attractive sight, moored along Queens Quay, in a decade when the city’s waterfront was primarily industrial. The Normac was one of the few signs of nightlife in an otherwise desolate region.
I have fond memories of the ship, as in the 1970s, during the summer months, Captain John’s served an all-you-can-eat lobster buffet on the upper deck of the Normac. Lobster – ice cold beer – and harbor view – paradise!
Letnik expanded his business when he purchased the MV (Merchant Vessel) Jadran in 1975. The vessel was launched in 1957 in Pula, Yugoslavia (now Croatia).
As a luxury cruise ship, it has sailed the Mediterranean Sea, docking in ports along the Aegean and Adriatic Sea, as well as the Black Sea. After Letnik became her owner, she embarked on a 16-day voyage to sail her from Yugoslavia to Toronto.
Mooring at Queens Quay, on the port side of the Normac, she began operations in May 1976. In addition to a public restaurant, the ship offered facilities for private parties, weddings, banquets and bar- mitzvah.
In 1981, the Normac was struck by the Toronto Ferry The Trillium, when it lost power. The hull of the Normac was perforated below the waterline. The incident occurred 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. With insufficient insurance money to refloat and restore the ship, Letnik was forced to sell it.
It was towed to Cleveland, Ohio, where it reverted to being a seafood restaurant called Captain John’s. In 1995, she was transported to Port Dalhousie, Ontario, and renamed The Riverboat. It was later called Tokyo Joe’s, but on December 28, 2011, it was destroyed by fire.
With the loss of the Normac, Captain John needed more space. It opened the floor above the main Jadran bridge to diners, and the second floor bridge, named the Dubrovnik Hall, was used for more important functions.
However, over the next year, business deteriorated and debts rose due to his battles with the city over taxes. Eventually, the ship’s water supply was cut off. Back taxes and utility bills were around $ 740,000 and without water, Restaurant Capt. John’s has closed.
In May 2015, the Jadran saga ended when it was towed out of port and taken to a shipbreaking yard in Port Colborne.
The loss of the ship was a great loss for the City of Toronto.
Doug Taylor was a teacher, historian, author and artist who wrote extensively on Toronto history at tayloronhistory.com. This article first appeared on his site on October 8, 2015, and has been republished here with permission from his estate. The article has been slightly edited.