Captain John’s Harbour Boat Restaurant was once located on Queens Quay at the foot of Yonge St, on the Harbourfront of Toronto.
Toronto’s First Floating Restaurant
In 1969, John Letnik purchased the MS Normac and opened Captain John’s a year later. It was the City’s first floating restaurant. Before becoming a restaurant, the boat was a Great Lakes passenger ferry and a Detroit fire tugboat. The arrival of Captain John’s Harbour Boat Restaurant to the then-industrial area began the gentrification process of Toronto’s Harbourfront.
The MV Jadran – The Second Captain John’s
In 1975, Mr Letnik purchased the MV Jadran from the Yugoslavian government for $1 million. It was a 16-day voyage to get the 90 m or 295 ft former Adriatic cruise ship from Yugoslavia to Toronto. It was moored in a slip with the bow facing Yonge St, next to the existing floating restaurant.
In its glory days, the floating restaurant was popular with locals and tourists. The ship hosted many special occasions, wedding receptions, celebrities, musicians, family celebrations and more.
The Sinking & Raising of the Normac
In 1981, the docked Normac was hit by a city-operated ferry boat, the Trillium. Two weeks later, the Normac sunk, and a years-long legal battle with the City began. The Normac was raised in 1986 and refurbished. In the mid-1990s, the boat was moved to Port Dalhousie, where it served as a floating restaurant for many years.
The Later Years of Captain John’s Harbour Boat Restaurant
Back onboard the MV Jadran, customers began to dwindle in the early 2000s, and Mr Letnik filed for bankruptcy protection. In 2007, a judge denied Mr Letnik’s application asking that his ship not be assessed for property taxes since it wasn’t a “structure.”
Final Voyage to Port Colborne
In 2009, the MV Jadran was put up for sale; however, there were no buyers. In 2012, the City shut down the restaurant and freshwater supply because thousands of dollars in back taxes were owed. Berthing fees to PortsToronto and licensing fees to Waterfront Toronto were also owed. In 2013, the City seized the ship. Two years later, and after 40 years at the foot of Yonge St, the MV Jadran was towed to the Marine Recycling Corporation (MRC) in Port Colborne for scrap metal.
Did You Know?
- Before MS Normac became Captain Letnik’s first floating restaurant, it was called the James R Elliott. Launched in 1902, the boat served as a fire tugboat for the City of Detroit in Michigan. In the early 1930s, the fire tug was purchased by the Owen Sound Transportation Company. It was rebuilt, repowered and renamed the MS Normac after Captain Norman McKay, the company’s General Manager. The boat served as a ferry between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island until the 1960s.
- When Mr Letnik sold the MS Normac in the mid-1980s, it became Tokyo Joe’s Marina Bar & Grill in Port Dalhousie. In 2011, there was a fire that nearly destroyed the boat; however, it was again refurbished and became the Riverboat Mexican Grill. The restaurant has since closed.
- Before Mr Letnik bought the MV Jadran, the ship began as one of a trio of luxury passenger cruise ships for Jadrolinija Lines.
- Built in 1957, the MV Jadran operated on the Adriatic Sea in Venice, Italy, as well as in Croatia and Greece. It could accommodate over 190 passengers and featured cabins, an elegant dining room and a lounge with a dance floor.
- MV stands for “Motorized Vessel,” and MS stands for “Motorized Ship.”
- The walkway along where the floating restaurant was once berthed is named Captain John’s Pier.
Captain John’s Restaurant Photos
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jun 3, 1981, pg 4
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Dec 19, 2009, pg M1
- Toronto Public Library: Toronto Star Archives: Seafood anyone?
- National Post: Captain John’s owner… & Inside the…
- Great Lake Ships: Elliott, James R.
- Ontario Ferries: About Us
- Niagara Falls Review: Boat restaurant gutted…
- SS Maritime: MV Jadran and Sisters
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives
- Toronto Yellow Pages 1983 courtesy of Toronto Public Library