Urban Exploring: Captain John’s Ship, Part Of Toronto’s Heritage Is At Risk…

Captain John’s Restaurant, on the bottom of Yonge Street


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.

English: Marshal Josip Broz Tito posing in mil...

Josip Broz Tito


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.


Maple leaf painted on-top of the old Soviet star on the side of Captain Jack’s ship


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 ballroom on Captain John’s ship…


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 John’s hull, deep inside the ship…


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?


Lifeboat on Captain John’s ship, with condos in the background…


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.

The steering gear at the back of Captain John’s ship…


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…


Permanent link to this article: http://www.genuinewitty.com/2012/08/12/urban-exploring-captain-johns-ship-part-of-torontos-heritage-is-at-risk/


Skip to comment form

  1. Screw it, it’s an eye sore. I remember when the first one sunk and how it sat there half submerged for the longest time before the current (and bigger) one got put in it’s place. Not that I think we should allow any more water front condos for the rich either. In fact I’m bloody tired of the rich in Toronto treating the water front like it belongs to them while the poor in this city gets less and less access to it. Screw them all. There should be nothing but public and park land along the water front from now on!!!!

    • brotherwolf1 on August 13, 2012 at 09:12
    • Reply

    I agree with Lawrence about the whole waterfront issue. It appears that those with the big bucks get to put up mile high condos with mile high price tags with million dollar views while the rest of us get to see the waterfront on TV.

    I have never been to the boat in question but am wondering how they will actually get it out from where it sits, as , from what i understand, a significant portion of it is buried deep into the lake bed.

    1. That’s interesting, Captain John never mentioned that complication. Sounds like they will have a challenging time getting rid of it. And, from what I heard, it will probably cost them a pretty penny to dispose of it too…

    • Tamara Dippel on August 14, 2012 at 19:48
    • Reply

    They’ll dismantle it, of course….If they win, which I hope to god they don’t! I think, considering it’s history, we should be refurbishing it, screw the rich sucking up everything, dismantling our stuff and our history! That ship can and should be preserved by refurbishing it… A restaurant and piece of our history. If we keep letting pieces of our past get swept away we will have less of a connection with it and with our sense of Toronto’s identity. Progress is important but does not have to include the wiping out of important pieces of our history. The condo crowd can just suck it up. Toronto is more than just pretty property and we shouldn’t allow the important pieces to be lost.

    1. The sad thing is that it will cost the city many 100’s of thousands of dollars to get rid of the ship – all to increase the profits of the people building the condos next door. If the city had an ounce of creativity they would find a way to preserve the ship and find an alternative use for it. There is at least 20,000 square feet of usable space inside of it.

      For example, it could make a wonderful space for the arts…

    • Trishia on August 23, 2013 at 03:53
    • Reply

    Cutting off a persons water and electricity is a CRIMINAL ACT and should be PUNISHED.
    Toronto is not a world class city if it refuses to maintain its heritage and history, no matter how brief that history may be. This ship must stay where it is and be restored to its former glory. It is an ICON and must be preserved. I wish Mr Letnick and the Jadran Godspeed. May she swim another 50 years.
    Home Depot could easily donate the paint & supplies and volunteers and students would be happy to re-paint her. There are ALL KINDS of skilled people that would gladly come forward to help cut down the costs of seeing this ship live another generation or three.
    What has happened to the Toronto spirit I once knew?
    Who’s with me?! Save this ship! Arrrrrrgh mateys! Ahoy!

What's your opinion?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: