Captain John’s Abandoned Restaurant – Toronto, Ontario

Captain John

A man with a dream versus the city determined to sink it.

Ivan Letnik was born in the republic of Slovenia, in a country of uprising and internal chaos. Realizing that Yugoslavia held no future for him, Letnik attempted to escape to neighbouring Austria. His first attempt failed but he was successful during his second attempt on August 8, 1956. Shortly after his escape to Austria, Letnik attended the hospital where a tumour on his neck deemed to be cancerous was removed. He spent time in Graz, Austria where he lived with distant family members and volunteered for the Red Cross helping people who had also fled their homeland. Letnik never informed his parents that he was leaving the country, they found out weeks later when Austrian authorities contacted his parents.

Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
Captain Johns

When a Red Cross official offered Letnik an opportunity to go to Canada, he accepted it. On August 8th, 1957 a year to the day since he’d fled his home country Letnik left for Canada by boat.

Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
kitchan area of Captain John’s Restaurant

Letnik arrived in Canada speaking no English and with only two dollars to his name. A German speaking couple directed him to resources where he was able to obtain work at the Toronto Golf and Country Club. When the club closed for the season, Letnik found work as a dishwasher at the year round St. Georges Golf and Country Club in Etobicoke. It was there that he learned how to cook food and to speak English. Letnik worked his way up to a cook and was eventually promoted to sous chef by the time he was 19 years old.

The work allowed Letnik to save up enough money to bring his girlfriend over to Canada in 1959 and the couple were married. Letnik had been in Canada for four years now and decided that he’d reached a crossroads where he could either remain at the golf course or he could open his own restaurant. He took the initiative and opened a thirty seat restaurant named the “Pop-In” located at Dundus and McCaul. The restaurant served basic meals such as breakfast, and dinners such as pork chops and potatoes which cost 45 cents.

Around 1966 Letnik bought the building that his restaurant was located in, and sold the business. In 1966 Letnik’s restaurant had earned him enough money that he was able to purchase a 1966 Chevrolet Impala and boat passage to Europe. He drove to New York where he boarded the SS France which took him to La Havre, France. Letnik drove the remaining 1500 miles to Yugoslavia where he was reunited with his family. He remained in Yugoslavia for three months and made the return voyage back home to Toronto.

The Normac

Image result for captain johns the normac

The Normac began as the “James R. Elliot” built in 1902 to serve as a fire tug. The boat was then sold to the Owen Sound Transportation Company where it was converted into a freighter and passenger ferry. The boat was renamed Normac after Captain Norman McKay who was the founder and manager of the Owen Sound Transportation Company. The Normac was used to ferry passengers and cars through Northern Ontario waters. It was retired in 1968 and then sold to a private owner.

It was the voyage upon the SS France and the dinners served on the ship that sparked an interest in Letnik to open a floating restaurant. His search for a suitable boat took him three years, a search that resulted in the purchase of the Normac.

A year later on July 23,1969 the Normac having been purchased by Ivan Letnik, made its way from Wallaceburg to Toronto. The ship was painted white with a red hull in order for the ship to stand out from the street. The Toronto Harbourfront Commission permitted Letnik to temporarily leave the ship in the Toronto harbour. At the time the area wasn’t an a place where you’d find tourists and restaurant patrons; it was a shipping area filled with warehouses, cargo ships and dock workers.

Captain John's 1980's menu
1980’s menu

“Captain John’s” floating Restaurant (1518756 Ontario) was officially opened on August 8th, 1970. The business became a popular tourist location that attracted famous Canadians such as Brian Mulroney, Mel Lastman, Robert Campeau, Steve Stavro and Bob Hope. The business brought tourists to an area of Toronto that offered little in the way of tourism and helped to increase popularity of the waterfront.

While the arrangement to dock the ship in the Toronto harbourfront had always been temporary, and Letnik had originally intended to move the ship to Ontario Place, the ship remained where it was until it was damaged years later.

Philanthrophy

Letnik never forgot what it was like to have nothing to your name. Each year his restaurant in co-operation with the Salvation Army held a free dinner for those less fortunate. Captain John’s also sponsored various city events such as the Hazel McCallion Golf tournament.

The Jadran

MS Jadran
MS Jadran

Letnik had been looking at purchasing a second ship and became interested in purchasing a 296-foot ship named the MS Jadran (‘adriatic’ in Yugoslavian). The ship was constructed in 1957 and contained five levels, 355 staterooms and room for 500 people. In the fall of 1975 Letnik along with a crew of sixteen men sailed to Yugoslavia to bring the ship back to Canada. The ship was purchased from the Yugoslavian government for one million dollars. It arrived in Toronto on November 27, 1975. The trip back to Canada took three days.

The 355 rooms were removed and the ship was renovated for use as a restaurant. In May of 1976 the Jadran opened as a secondary location for banquets and conventions. It was situated alongside the Normac.

Disaster

On June 2, 1981 a Toronto Island paddle-wheel ferry named the Trilllium went off course and struck the Normac. The resulting collision sent shocked customers and dishes to the floor. Several patrons took their wine bottles with them as they fled the restaurant. There were approximately 270 customers on board at the time.

Letnik wasn’t aboard at the time but arrived shortly after to assist in evacuating people from the ship.

A transport engineer concluded a hydraulic lock prevented the Trilllum from reversing when it approached the slip it shared with Captain John’s. The Trillium’s bow wasn’t sharp enough to cut the Normac in half. A two foot hole in the ship was patched with a one inch thick metal plate. The repair didn’t hold however and the boat sunk days later on June 16, 1981.

Source: Toronto Sun, June 3, 1981

Letnik took the City of Toronto to court for the damages but the amount awarded wasn’t enough to have the boat raised. The ongoing legal battle would take eight years as it worked its way through the appeal courts but Letnik was eventually able to raise the boat, repair it and sell it.

A second level was opened on the Jadran to accommodate the additional customers after the 1981 sinking of the Normac.

That Sinking Feeling

Since 1991 the City of Toronto allowed the Captain John’s property to be leased on a monthly basis rather than annually. This made it difficult for Letnik to have any peace of mind in way of long-term planning for his business.

The economic situation of the past 20 years and poor tourism seasons have taken their toll on the restaurant. The celebrities that once patronized the restaurant were becoming fewer as were the corporate parties and weddings. Letnik attempted to negotiate deals with the nearby hotels in which tourists received discounts.

In 2002 the restaurant filed for bankruptcy protection as it owed over $5 million to various creditors. Letnik’s bankruptcy proposal involved the repayment of all unsecured creditors owed $5000 or less and a repayment of no more than $30,000 to all other unsecured creditors.

In August of 2008 the public health unit ordered the restaurant closed after finding 11 infractions including ‘Operator fail to maintain premises free of sewage back-up’ and ‘Operator fail to ensure food is not contaminated/adulterated’. Letnik was fined $2,160.

In 2009 Letnik’s lawyers argued that the ship didn’t rest on a foundation and couldn’t be assessed for property taxes. A judge ruled that since the ship had been moored to the shore since 1975, it could be taxed. Letnik attempted to appeal this ruling but was denied.

That same year Letnik put the restaurant up for sale at a list price of $1.5 million which was subsequently reduced to $1.1 million. Despite nearly forty years of operation, Letnik was unable to sell the restaurant.

Around this same time period the reviews for the restaurant began to indicate that the level of service and quality of food was diminishing.

The Final Blow

In June of 2012 the Toronto Port Authority rescinded the lease agreement for the slip where the ship was moored. Their reasons were that the restaurant owed over $500,000 in back taxes, rent and utility payments.

The City of Toronto shut off the supply of water to the boat. This resulted in Letnik having to cancel four buses full of Montreal tourists destined for his restaurant. The decision to turn off the water in turn forced the Health Department to issue an order closing the restaurant due to the staff’s inability to sanitize dishes and wash their hands.

Letnik was given until July 27, 2012, to remove the boat’s gangplank and all restaurant signage. The Toronto Port authority invoked marine law which prevented the ship from leaving the dock until its debts to the city and Port Authority were paid.

The gangplank decision was later rescinded by Waterfront Toronto, and Letnik was allowed to stay on board his ship. It should be noted that Waterfront Toronto only came into existence in 2001 and yet were given authority over a ship that had been in Toronto for over 40 years.

The removal of the ship would be no easy task as the engine has been removed and the ship is mirred in mud. Unable to find an interested buyer, Letnik was given an additional month by Waterfront Toronto.

By 2013 Letnik owed the city of Toronto $648,947 in taxes, water charges and penalties, and $216,871 to the Toronto Port Authority in rent. There was also more than $650,000 in mortgages. The city of Toronto began processes to seize the ship which led Letnik to declare that he wouldn’t abandon the ship and might even chain himself to it.

The question became, was this a ship or was it property? How could one prevent a ship from leaving the dock while at the same time taxing the ship annually for $40,000 in property taxes. Letnik attempted to have his residence aboard the ship be deemed a tenancy under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA). He felt this was further enforced by the city billing him for realty tax. In addition, the city terminating the supply of water would be considered a violation of the RTA. Letnik’s claim was heard on April 10, 2014.

By March of 2014 according to documents filed with the Federal Court by the Toronto Port Authority, Letnik now owed $1.7 million in realty taxes, insurance, berthing, mortgage and other fees, some going as far back as 2002.

Letnik, who had been living aboard the ship for years now retreated to his rental property on Glen Everest Road.

The Toronto Port Authority gave a deadline of August 22, 2014 for the Jadran to be removed and scrapped. Three bids were submitted for the process.

A court ordered appraisal listed the ship as a $125,000 liability because the cost of insuring and scrapping the ship could run as high as $725,000, greater than the $600,000 scrap value. One bidder even asked to be paid to take the ship off of the city’s hands.

On July 31, 2014, the Federal Court of Canada declared the winning bid to be that of entrepreneur James Sbrolla of the North American Seafood Exchange who offered to purchase the ship for $33,501. Sbrolla had hoped to restore the boat into a floating restaurant. Plans for a new berth for the ship fell through so Sbrolla proposed to have tugboats tow the ship to a private slip where it could be stripped of scrap metal by Priestly Demolition.

In October 2014 the Toronto Port Authority terminated the deal and returned payment to Sbrolla. They indicated that they “didn’t feel comfortable” with having the ship torn apart in the harbour.

“We don’t feel comfortable proceeding with a plan at this point that involves tearing the ship apart in the harbour. We want to be sure we’re doing this right, mitigating risk and removing the ship in a manner that is safe from an environmental and public safety standpoint.”, said port authority spokeswoman Erin Mikaluk.

Photo of Captain John's Restaurant - A dusty kitchen with plates waiting to be washed
A dusty kitchen with plates waiting to be washed

Photo of Captain John's Restaurant - main deck
The main deck is lined with framed memorabilia of the ship’s better days


Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
A now deserted dining room
Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
Photo of Captain John's Restaurant


Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
The bar has run dry
Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
Photo of Captain John's Restaurant


Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
Captain’s Quarters
Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
top portion of a piano
Photo of Captain John's Restaurant


Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
stairs
Photo of Captain John's Restaurant
Photo of Captain John's Restaurant


Epilogue

A documentary about Captain John produced by Shasha Nakhai was released in 2014. It’s titled “The Unsinkable Captain John”. Ivan “John” Letnik lives in his rental property in Toronto. He is divorced and has a daughter in Washington.

After two teenagers were caught vandalizing the property in January of 2015, the Port Authority removed the gangplanks and further reinforced any possible ways into the ship.

On May 28, 2015, the vessel was towed out of Toronto’s harbour before a large audience of spectators and a musical band. The event was broadcast live on CP24 Television.

Additional photos from this location may be found here.
https://www.ontarioabandonedplaces.com/Captain-John’s-Restaurant-abandoned-Ontario_loc10814.html

Sources:
1) Wikipedia
2) savecaptainjohn.org
3) http://www.theglob…e/article20187446/
4) http://www.ssmarit…an-and-Sisters.htm
5) Photo collection of Anton Heuff
6) Mike Filey’s Toronto Sketches

Abandoned Blue Staircase Mansion Toronto

I came across this lovely retro home while out for a day of exploring in the Toronto area. It wasn’t on my list of places to see but the overgrown driveway and For Sale sign caught my attention.  It’s not abandoned but it’s not lived in and well.. it just has a great retro appearance.

A realtor was just leaving when I pulled up so I returned a short time later and found my way inside. It isn’t technically abandoned but regular followers to my social media know that I use the term ‘abandoned’ in a vast scope of applications.

winding staircase
Blue staircase
Blue-Staircase

retro living room

The main floor is quite spacious. The walls have a distinct 1970’s appearance to them. In the far corner of the room is an old vinyl record player built into the wall unit. The couch is unusually large, able to fit at least six people.  

A couch for six

The kitchen area is modern featuring a granite counter top and three sinks.  

The children’s bedroom upstairs resembles what you might expect from The Shining movie. The walls and ceiling are wallpapered in a somewhat nauseating pattern.  

The Shining Twins retro bedroom
The Shining Twins bedroom

More interesting colour choices  

The blue carpeted staircase with wallpapered pattern walls  

In the basement is a room which one can only imagine the parties that may have taken place here in earlier decades. The couch is of a most unique colour pattern, wouldn’t you agree?  

If you do find your way inside this house, don’t be surprised if the realtor shows up while you’re still taking photos. The asking price is in the $4,000,000 range.  

$7 Million Abandoned Halloween Mansion in Toronto Ontario

This beautiful property was one of the highlights of my 2019 exploring year. The vacant mansion is located in Southern Ontario and valued at just over $7 million dollars. There isn’t much of a back yard, in fact there’s about 10 feet of grass and then a dangerously steep ravine; not safe for children or pets by any means. 

When you enter the house from the east, the sun room is the first area you’ll find.

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Look at this beautiful house

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Eastern sun room

This sun room wasn’t added onto to the house until the 1960’s. 

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As I proceeded west I entered the living room (above). Next to the living room is the family room. What’s the difference? The three rooms are essentially combined space. 

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design above fireplace

Take notice of the design above the fireplace, the book shelves, the double doors and the recessed window area where one could sit to read a book. The panel you see just to the right of the window is a multi-function switch that controls numerous lights in the house. Yes I tried it, no it didn’t work. 

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reading alcove

Proceeding through the double doors took me to the foyer. There was a spiral staircase going upstairs and in the excitement, I forgot to see where it lead to. A floor map that I found later showed that it would have led to the upper bedrooms.

Curved Double Doors, Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

This is the foyer of the house, where the main entrance is located. There’s a walk-in closet to the right of the entrance as you walk in and a bathroom on the left side. The floors are made of marble. 

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Majestic staircase

If you were to turn around, you’d walk into the dining room where the “Happy Birthday” sign is hanging. 

Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

Let’s walk west into the eat-in kitchen area. You can see the two sets of oval entrances that you’d walk through to reach here. The counter top had some tools, Tupperware and duct tape. I was a little nervous at this point expecting someone could show up at any time to work on the house. 

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The house is being recommended for Heritage designation under the Ontario Heritage Act. The application for designating the property as a Heritage structure took place shortly before the house was sold. The new owners wanted to initially demolish the house. They then applied to make changes to the property that would change it’s appearance.  

When the last occupants moved out, they held a birthday & Halloween party for a Marian. Some walls are covered with a Halloween motif. 

Halloween message, Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places
party masks, Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

dining room spray paint, Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

Exiting the kitchen will take you into the office at the far west of the house. 

Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

Notice that one of the wall panels appears to open downward to expose what’s behind it. The house plan shows the area in the far corner to be a wet bar (a bar with a sink in it). Looking at photos of this room when it was still in use, you can’t tell there’s a door there. It’s also a remarkable room! 

Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

It was particularly dark in the office so I opened the curtains to allow some light in. Are you imagining hidden compartments in the walls? 

Having explored the main floor, it was time to head upstairs. 

beautiful mansion staircase, Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

beautiful staircase, Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

To the east are two small bedrooms, yellow and green in colour. The yellow bedroom had red paint splattered on the walls apparently as makeshift blood. 

Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

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Across from the stairs is a larger bedroom with red walls. It has a large window, corner cabinet and a non-functional fireplace. 

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I realize now why I missed the spiral staircase leading upstairs. It was behind a closed door between the red bedroom and the yellow bedroom. There’s a bathroom at this end of the hallway with the floor tiles removed and the wall torn out where the shower spout would have been. 

Midway down the hallway, almost in the middle of the house, is a dressing room. This basically resembles a walk-in closet. 

The pieces of wood you see on the floor and wall are crosses used for the Halloween party. Was the spray paint and fake blood splattered after the house was sold? 

At the west end of the upstairs hallway is the master bedroom, looking more like a temporary office than a bedroom. 

Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

Unfortunately I had a somewhat reluctant companion with me who was waiting in the car. For that reason I felt hurried and totally forgot that there was a basement area to explore. In the basement there was a tub filled with fake blood and eyeballs. 

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Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places
Abandoned-Ontario-Halloween-Mansion-House, Toronto, GTAm urban exploration photography, urban explorer, urban exploring, creepy, decay, abandoned, abandoned Ontario, abandoned exploring, abandoned houses, time capsule, abandoned photography, abandoned places

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. 

Happy Trails… 

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Abandoned Ontario $4.5 Million GTA Mansion

This mansion is located in the Greater Toronto Area. It was built around 1985. I named it the “Wasted Space Mansion” because I find that it has too much room and not enough character. You could fill it with furniture and still have too much empty space left over.

The mansion was purchased in 1985 for $835,000 by a wealthy developer. Today’s value is approximately $4.5 million dollars. 

Wasted Space Mansion - Toronto
The front of this beautiful mansion

realtor photo of the Wasted Space Mansion
Real estate photo

Wasted Space Mansion

Once you enter inside the main doors, you’re greeted by a security camera on the right wall. It does move, though it didn’t seem to be tracking anything. Just off to your left will be a glass tiled wall and water fountain. If you walk behind that fountain you’ll find a bathroom.

Wasted Space Mansion
water pond

Wasted Space Mansion

Wasted Space Mansion
Real estate photo of the same pond

Wasted Space Mansion
Bathroom behind the water pond

Further inside the house on the left is a large kitchen with patio doors leading to the outside yard and pool. Just off to the right is what would be the living room, with a fireplace. The lighting in this room is extensive, with spotlights and then trim lights that light up just the walls.

Wasted Space Mansion
large kitchen and skylight

Moving down to the left of the main lobby you’ll come to a laundry room and the door to the garage.

Wasted Space Mansion

large walk in closet
large walk in closet

Take a right from the main lobby and you’ll come to the bedrooms and walk in closet. There’s a metal gate here which purpose I’m not clear on, unless you want to keep your pets out or something.

Your first stop as you turn right should be the entertainment room. This room has a fabric (not wallpaper) flower pattern on the wall which matches the couch. The couch appears to be part of the wall. The switches to raise and lower the curtains and screen (or light blocking screen?) are just behind the couch. There’s a bar and a fridge in this room. Perfect for movie nights and sports playoffs. 

Wasted Space Mansion unique wallpaper
unusual wallpapering
Wasted Space Mansion
bar area

Around the corner is another bathroom with two stalls: one toilet and bidet, one toilet. I guess if you want to listen to one another take a crap this is for you. The bathroom is huge.

Wasted Space Mansion
bathroom with two toilets

There’s a stairway leading to the basement where you’ll find a mini kitchen, a bar area and gym equipment. There’s more wasted space with a large room with a purpose that would seem pointless. 

Wasted Space Mansion
Staircase to basement at far eastern side of the house 

Wasted Space Mansion
Wasted Space Mansion

The property is vacant because of fraudulent activity that took place regarding investments for purchasing several homes in the area, including this one.