One of the things I’ve always loved about Toronto was how things seem more genuine here- I missed that living in Vancouver. Sure, like every city, Vancouver has their institutions- but, in Toronto things seem more real. Toronto has many great historical businesses- places like Honest Ed’s, Peter Pan and Mars Diner have always been close to my heart. So, when I first saw Captain Jack’s, and learned about it’s colourful history, I was sad to hear the possibility it could be taken away- it would be a great shame to see it go.
Back in the days of the three Martini lunch, Captain John’s had standing line-ups outside the door. It was a place where the city’s business deals were made and celebrations were held. A large part of our city’s history happened onboard John Letnik’s ship.
Letnick brought the ship from his homeland of Yugoslavia. It was originally used for holiday cruises- down the rivers of Yugoslavia in the summer, on the Black Sea and Mediterranean in the winters. Notorious Yugoslavian dictator Josip Tito used the ship at one time. Jack had his pictures and statue before he sailed it to Canada during the height of the Cold War- he shared his story about how Yugoslavian exiles protested when he brought it into Toronto.
The is a place where memories were made. “Back in the 70’s, a lot of people held their Barmizva’s here” says Jack Letnick, who converted the upstairs of the ship into an art-deco style ballroom. There were two kitchens at first- one upstairs, and one downstairs. But, when modern technologies brought efficient heating chests, he was able to consolidate into one kitchen and become more efficient.
The City of Toronto has been gradually taxing Captain John’s out of business. He started-off with a moorage fee of several hundred dollars- gradually, this has increased to several thousand. Then, the city began to demand the ship pay property taxes of over $30,000 per year. Letnick fought these fees in court, and lost- and is now facing over half a million dollars in back-taxes.
Captain Jack’s predicament brings up an important question about taxation policy. Does a city have an obligation to enable older businesses to survive- or, is progress more important? We all know that Honest Ed’s would be more valuable as a site for a condo- but, do we not want to save this part of our city’s unique heritage?
The City of Toronto wants it gone, and it’s no big secret why. Condos are going up beside it, and there is a deal in the works for the parking lot next to it. So, rather than work with Captain John to save part of our heritage, they have been taxing his ship out of business. Now, with all of the back-taxes due, they are making their final moves to get rid of the ship.
Letnick was given a final notice a few weeks ago. Waterfront Toronto rescinded his license for the sidewalk beside his ship. He was to have removed all of his signs by July 27th. Then, the city cut-off the water to the ship- this has killed his restaurant business- making it impossible to serve meals. His staff will be losing their jobs now.
In a display of complete hypocrisy, the Toronto Port Authority has issued an order to detain the ship. I say hypocrisy because the city’s justification for raising the taxes was that they said Captain John’s is not a ship, but a structure. But, now that they want to get rid of it, they are now conveniently treating it like it is a ship.
Letnick has vowed to stay on the ship, and to do everything he can to keep the city from towing it away- all the way to the point of chaining himself to it. Captain John is Toronto’s last remaining Occupier now. Torontonians should join his cause and call for this landmark to be saved. Progress is good, but our city’s heritage is at stake…