The foot of Yonge Street is looking dramatically different today. For forty years, the MS Jadran—or Captain John's Restaurant—stood at Yonge and Queen's Quay. This morning, the 90-metre relic was carefully tugged out of Toronto harbour, opening up an unobstructed view of the slip for the first time in decades.
Yugoslavian refugee John Letnik came to Canada in 1957. He purchased the MS Normac, a former Detroit fire boat and Manitoulin Island ferry, and repurposed the ship as Toronto's first floating restaurant. The MS Jadran, operating as a cruise ship in Yugoslvia, was then purchased and moored next to the Normac in 1975. Both operated as restaurants until the Normac was struck by a Toronto ferry in 1981, causing its sinking and a tense legal battle with the City.
From that point on, the Jadran became exclusively known as Captain John's Restaurant. Though the restaurant and associated event spaces proved popular through the 1970s and 1980s, a decade-long legal battle with his former common-law wife led to Letnik filing for bankruptcy protection. Once employing dozens of staff, the business dwindled, and only ten remained.
Letnik appealed his property tax bill in 2007, arguing that the boat was not considered a "structure". The application was denied and Letnik's back taxes mounted to $500,000. He later put the ship on the market for $1.5 million, subsequently lowering it to $1.25 million, yet was unable to find a buyer. With no buyers in sight and the debt quickly growing, the lease was rescinded and the restaurant was shut down by the City. With Letnik owing over $1 million, City Council orderered the ship seized in 2013. The following year, a deal to purchase the boat for $33,500 fell through, and the City continued its search for a buyer.
Finally, plans to tow the ship through the Welland Canal to Port Colborne, where it would be scrapped by Marine Recycling Corporation, were approved. The delicate operation began today at 10:30 AM, with a throng of onlookers expressing both sadness and glee at Captain John's final journey. Two tugs, Molly and Jarrett, were positioned at the bow and stern of the engineless Jadran. The top-heavy ship was injected with 200 tonnes of water, pushing it further into the water, a move done to stabilize the boat.
As the ship pulled out of the harbour, John Letnik waved goodbye to the hundreds packed along the water's edge and nearby condominiums, who reciprocated with cheers and applause.
The ship made its way past Sugar Beach at a surprisingly quick pace as sunbathers and photographers looked on at the unusual scene.
The Jadran was gingerly turned around bow-first for travel through the Eastern Gap.
As the Jadran carefully turned south of the Toronto Islands, the view of the storied ship disappeared.
UrbanToronto has put together a short timelapse video showing part of the operation as the boat delicately moved out of its moored position.
Expecting to take about five hours, the ship's structural integrity will receive another checkup when it arrives at the Welland Canal. Once at the scrapyard, asbestos and other contaminants will be removed and Captain John's will be recycled.
Back at the foot of Yonge Street, the view has dramatically changed. The absence of Captain John's opens up a new perspective of Waterlink at Pier 27, which is completing its exterior landscaping.
Though the ship has sailed, Captain John's signage still occupies the eastern edge of the slip.
The view looking northeast, now comparatively bare, will no doubt change in the coming years. Future phases of Pier 27 are set to occupy the existing parking lot, with a landscaped public water's edge park providing a much more welcoming pedestrian environment.
Though some considered Captain John's an eyesore, others have fond memories of the weddings, proms and other receptions held within the ship's insides. What memories do you have of Captain John's? Leave a comment below to share your stories.