Tag Archives: Toronto Harbour

The lost Hanlan’s Hotel on the Toronto Islands

Fonds 1244, Item 176

Hotel Hanlan on Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands, c.1908. Toronto Archives Fonds 1244, Item 0176

The Toronto Islands have been viewed as an idyllic recreational escape from the summer’s humid heat on the mainland since the days when Toronto was the small colonial town of York. Ferry service across the bay commenced in the  1833, powered by horses walking on treadmills. The same year, the first small hotel opened on the Islands. Steam-powered boats began crossing the harbour in the 1850s. At the beginning of that decade, the Islands formed a peninsula, until severe storms in 1852 and 1858 washed away the low-lying sandbars that formed an isthmus at the harbour’s eastern end, creating an open channel that became known as the Eastern gap. 

The Islands were crown land that was ceded to the City of Toronto after Confederation in 1867. The city leased property on the Islands, but the there was no official plan so the leases and grants were haphazardly parcelled out. However, most people visited the Island on day-trips, the wide sandy beaches on West Point (today’s Hanlan’s Point) particularly attractive to sun bathers. Lieutenant Governor Simcoe referred to this area as Gibraltar Point, but the name now seems to apply only to the southwest part where the historic stone lighthouse is located.

In the early 1870s, City Council studied ways to develop the Islands properly. At the time they were mostly grasslands and trees, many of which were ancient willows, well suited to the low-lying sandy soil. Landfill was employed to create more islands and extend small peninsulas such as West Point.

Because of the increased number of visitors, in the 1860s John Hanlan, an Irishman immigrant and former fisherman, was appointed as constable to patrol the beaches and parklands. In the early 1870s, he built a one-storey frame home on West Point (east of Gibraltar Point) and a wharf beside it. A boathouse adjacent to the wharf accommodated visitors who arrived by boat. During these years, there were few places on the Islands for people wishing to remain overnight. They stayed in tents, boarding houses, and a few small hotels. In 1878, John Hanlan responded to the need and converted his house into a hotel, which by 1880 had expanded to contain 25 rooms. 


      Hanlan’s Hotel and wharf, c. 1880, Toronto Public Library, r-3433

1884 Atlas of the city of Toronto and suburbs from special survey and registered plans showing all buildings and lot numbers r-12[1]

This 1884 map in the collection of the Toronto Archives reveals the location of the Hanlan Hotel, on the northern tip of the peninsula.

1889, R. L. Polk and Comany, Tor. Archives  [1]

This 1889 map depicts Hanlan’s Point and the hotel on the northern tip of the small eastern peninsula. Map by R. L. Polk and Company, Toronto Archives. Landfill joined these two small peninsulas into one land mass and the area to the north of Hanlan’s Hotel was eve eventually filled in, and is where the airport on the Island is located today.

John Hanlan’s son, Edward (Ned) Hanlan, born in 1855, spent his boyhood on the Islands, becoming a skilled oarsman at an early age. While attending George Street Public School on the mainland, he rowed across the harbour each day. When he was 18, he won the championship of Toronto Bay in rowing, a highly popular sport in that day, as it involved extensive gambling. Four years later, he won the American championship, and in 1878, the American title. On November 15, 1880, he won the world championship on the Thames River in England, the first Canadian athlete to receive world recognition. Hanlan won over 300 races during his professional career.

At the pinnacle of his fame, Ned Hanlan took over the management of his father’s hotel. Grateful for the fame Hanlan had brought to the city, Toronto City Council officially changed the name of West Point to Hanlan’s Point, which it retains today. Shortly after, Ned leased 1.2 hectares of land on Hanlan’s Point, near the home where he had spent his boyhood, to extend his father’s hotel business.

In 1880, he constructed a larger hotel, a three-storey structure in a variation of the Second Empire style, designed by the firm of McCaw and Lennox. It was a frame building, its exterior covered with wide boards cut in a sawmill. Constructed entirely of wood, only the hotel’s foundations contained any masonry. Its overall appearance, with its many wings, ornate trim and pointed cupolas, appeared light and airy. In the eyes of many, it was akin to a summer palace, an ideal place to holiday during the hot, humid Toronto days of July and August. The various sections of the building were topped with pointed turrets containing sloping Mansard roofs. On the east facade there were wide balconies that provided excellent views of Blockhouse Bay, Toronto’s harbour, and the city skyline. The year after it opened, a billiard room and bowling alley were added.

The hotel became the centre of social life on the Islands. Anglican church services were held in its parlour, summer residents picked up their mail there, and the first telephone installed on the Toronto Islands was in the hotel. Four lines of ferries transported overnight guests and day-visitors to the dock in front of the hotel. In 1882, Ned Hanlan leased the hotel to James Mackie, who managed the American Hotel on the mainland. Mackie enlarged the premises by adding a fourth floor and also constructed a summer opera house and carousel.

C. Pelham in his book, “Toronto Past and Present,” written in 1882, stated that at the Hotel Hanlan, “. . . the table d’hote [fixed-price menu] and restaurant are well known to the citizens of Toronto, and the enjoyment of a nice dinner in the cool of the evening, has come to be known as one of Toronto’s luxuries.“

Ned Hanlan died of pneumonia in 1908, the funeral service held in St. Andrew’s Church. He was buried in the Necropolis Cemetery on Winchester Street in Cabbagetown. Sadly, the magnificent hotel was destroyed by a fire that swept Hanlan’s Point on August 10, 1909.

Note: the author is grateful to the book, “Lost Toronto,” by William Dendy, Oxford University Press, 1978, for some of the material contained in this post.  

1903 Atlas of the City of Toronto and suburbs founded on registered plans and special surveys showing plan numbers, lots & buildings r-101[1]

Map of 1903 from the Toronto Archives. It reveals the location of the Hanlan Hotel overlooking Blockhouse Bay, and the amount of landfill employed to create land to build the amusement park at Hanlan’s Point.

boathouse, 1870-- pictures-r-3424[1]

 John Hanlan’s Boathouse, his hotel evident in the background, c. 1880. Toronto Public Library, r-3424 

Fonds 1244, Item 175

Hanlan’s Hotel c. 1890. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 0175

btw, 1885 and 1895  f1478_it0013[1]

Hotel Hanlan between 1885 and 1895. The carousel is evident on the right-hand side of the hotel. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1478, Item 0013

Fonds 1244, Item 163

    Hanlan’s Hotel in 1907, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 0163. 

Fonds 1244, Item 6029

Hotel Hanlan in 1907, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1233, Item 6029.

         Fonds 1244, Item 164

         Hanlan’s Hotel 1907, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1478, Item 0164.

Hanlan Hotel, a four storey frame building bought from Edward Hanlan by the Toronto Ferry Company, destroyed in the fire which swept Hanlan's Point on August 10, 1909 – January 1, 1908

The hotel in 1909, the year it was destroyed by fire. Toronto Archives, S1171, Item 1724

TRL, 1909,  pictures-r-3441[1]

         Hanlan’s Hotel in 1909, Toronto Public Library r- 3441

TRL, 1910--pcr-2146[1]

Postcard of the Hanlan’s Hotel, c. 1909, Toronto Public Library, pcr-2146

To view the Home Page for this blog:

A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern.

A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.

A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016.





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Stories from old Toronto postcards


Old Toronto postcards sometimes reveal lovers’ quarrels and family squabbles, as well as mundane messages. It was necessary to be discreet, since the cards were seen by postal employees, including the local mailman. When viewing the material written on postcards of yesteryear, they appear similar to those sent in emails, or posted on Facebook and Twitter. Some of the messages are like the texts of today, though texts use more abbreviations.

I have been collecting old postcards of Toronto for many years; the postcard shown above is from my collection. It contains a view of Queen Street West, looking east from James Street, toward Yonge Street, about the year 1910. It was produced by Valentine and Sons’ Publishing Company, the most prolific marketer of postcards in the city during the first two decades of the 20th century. In the photo, on the left-hand side, to the east of the Adam’s Furniture Store, is the old Eaton’s Queen Street store, which was demolished to create the south section of the Eaton Centre of today. On the right-hand side of the photograph is the former Simpson’s Department store, which is now the Bay, at Queen and Yonge. The streetcar is a wooden car operated by the Toronto Street Railway Company, which provided city public transit until the TTC was created in 1921.


The Rosehill Reservoir Park is located southeast of the intersection of Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue East (part of David Balfour Park). This card was mailed on July 27, 1906, to Mr. Norman Pascoe, who address was simply, “Lake Front at Kew Beach.” On the card the sender wrote: “ Dear Norman. We will meet you at Kippen Avenue at seven p.m. Wednesday next, if convenient. If not, please let us know. Yours truly, “Moonlight” 27/7/06.” Note: A hint of mystery is attached to this message, since the names of the senders are disguised. Why were they meeting?


This postcard was mailed on June 1, 1939 to Miss Darling of Stockwell London, England. View looks north on Bay Street from King Street. A woman named Marjorie sent it from West Toronto. She writes: “Having a wonderful time. Have met Ivy, Doris, Fred, Uncle Eddie, and Aunt Annie and other friends in Toronto. We are on the boat on Lake Ontario and going to Niagara. Weather very hot.” The card was signed, “Love from Marjorie.” Note: Shorten this message slightly and it could be a text.


On the reverse side of Marjory’s postcard, sent in 1939, are postage stamps depicting Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The cost of postage was 2 cents.


This view of Toronto harbour is on a postcard mailed on August 2, 1908. Written on the card is: “Had a fine ride on the Lake this morning. It is beautiful. Hope all are well and getting a long all right.” The card was signed, “Lillie.” In the picture, on the right-hand side of the skyline is the spire of St. James Cathedral on King Street East. On the reverse side of the card is a one-cent postage stamp commemorating the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec—1608-1908.


This card was mailed from Toronto on June 14, 1909, by a young woman named Sarah, who sent it to Mrs. C. Everingham at Parry Harbour Ontario. She wrote: “Dear Mother, am well, hope you are the same. Mother could you send me $1.00 right away so I could get it Saturday. Well I am so home sick to see yous all again. I can hardly write Mother. Send me the price to go if you want me but send me the dollar for I need it badly.” The card was signed, “From Sarah xxx.” Note: The wording of the message is rather confusing but Sarah’s needs are quite clear.

The view on the card depicts Centre Island, likely from the shoreline of Long Pond looking west as there is a wooden bridge in the background. This bridge was later replaced by one constructed of stone.


Sarah of Toronto sent this card on July 31, 1911. She wrote: “Dear cousin, We had a nice trip home, had dinner and tea at Mrs. Shepphard’s and then came down on the 7 o’clock boat. Found all well at home. Sister wants you to arrive, she wants to see you. Hope that Mr. Wossack is still getting on fine. Remember us to all with best. Kindness and Friendship.” The card was signed, “Yours, Sarah.” The view on the card looks westward across the picnic grounds at Hanlan’s point toward the lake.


This exceptionally fine view of Toronto Street looks north from near King Street East toward Adelaide Street East. The Toronto Seventh Post Office, with its columned portico is visible on the left-hand side (west side) of the street. It is one of the few buildings on the street that still exists today. The card was mailed by Nellie from Toronto on February 25, 1908 to Mrs. Fred Battle in Bowmanville, Ont.  It reads: “Dear Mildred, would you cut me a pattern of a skirt for me. Will pay you for it, 22 waist, medium 38 length, a plain full skirt print for the house. I like them pretty full and if you would pin the seams together as I don’t know any other patterns putting them together unless they are put together. I can make them then.” The card was signed, “Nellie.” Note: I hope that Mrs. Battle understood the card’s instructions better than I did.


This postcard shows the Amusement Park at the famous Sunnyside Beach, often referred to as “The poor man’s Riviera.” It was where each spring Toronto’s Easter Parade was held on the boardwalk, visible on the left-hand side of the photo. The view faces west, the waters of the lake to the south (left) of the boardwalk (not visible in the photo). The large structure in the photo with the red domed roof is the merry-go-round (carousel). When Sunnyside amusement park was demolished in the 1950s, the ride was shipped to Disneyland in California. In the foreground is Lakeshore Boulevard. The postcard was mailed on August 27, 1927, sent to “Master Elmer Morley, Sub. P.O. Ford City, Ontario.” The card reads: “ We arrived in Toronto all right and found Millers all well. We expect to go to exhibition on Monday.” The card is unsigned.


This card is likely from around the year 1920. There is no date or message on it as it was never sent to anyone. The view faces east toward the pedestrian bridge over Long Pond. The women seated on the bench in the foreground are formally attired, the usual custom until the late 1940s, when men wore shirts and ties when attending picnics, the CNE or an evening stroll.


This postcard depicts the ruins of a grist mill on the west bank of the Humber River. The card was mailed on July 12, 1907, prior to building the Old Mill Tea Garden and Restaurant, which was constructed beside the ruins in 1914. The card was sent to Miss Arrabel Ellis of Fenelon Falls. Ontario. It reads: “Dear Belle, I hear you are having quite a holiday this summer. You certainly had a nerve coming to Toronto and not the Junction. They wouldn’t give me your message.” It was signed, “Gerald.” Note: There seems to be some frustration and disappointment expressed on the part of Gerald. Lovers’ quarrel?


This card with the delightful scene of Toronto harbour was mailed from the city on October 3, 1906. It was sent to Daisy Alberta Shepp at 929 E. King Street, York, Pennsylvania. U.S. A. There was no message on the card and it was unsigned.


The view on this card faces south on Sherbourne Street. Sherbourne and Church Streets were among the first in the city to have electrically-powered streetcars. The card was mailed on June 7, 1905 to Miss A. B. Ellis, MacDonald Hall, Guelph, Ont. It reads: “Am sorry you will not be at my tea. We will miss you. Do not get lonesome.” It was signed, “May.”


The first buildings on the site shown above was in 1838, when Captain Dick, a wealthy steamboat captain, constructed four brick townhouses. In 1856, Mr. Sword bought the houses and converted them into a hotel. In 1859, Captain Dick reappeared on the scene, bought the hotel, and renamed it the Queen’s. It became the city’s most elite hostelry and dining establishment. The future King George V, when he was the Prince of Wales, stayed at the Queen’s, as did several American presidents. The closing of the Queen’s in 1927 was the end of an era and the beginning of a new. The Royal York Hotel was built on the site by Canadian Pacific Hotels, a division of the Canadian Pacific Railways. 

The postcard was mailed on May 25, 1907 to Johann Laemmersamn of 2 Front Street, Watertown N. Y. It reads: “I am pleased with the pretty cards you sent.” It was signed, “Mr. Young.”


This lithograph of Union Station on Front Street was mailed from Niagara Falls N. Y. on July 15, 1922. The station did not open until 1927, so the card was likely based on the architect’s sketches. The card was sent by Lottie to Miss Irma Chaplin of Jefferson, Ohio. It reads: “Toronto, Canada, July 14, 1922—Here today and there tomorrow. And it’s all wonderful. You ought to see it for yourself.” The card was signed, “Lottie” 


This card was mailed from Hamilton, Ontario, on October 3, 1908. It was sent to Miss M. Eubank of Willoro Grove, Ontario. It reads: “Received letter but it was a long time in coming. Send me a card when you are coming down so I can go down to see you. Bring me some apples and beech nuts. I wish I was there to gather some. Miss H. will be down Friday, down to see her Sunday afternoon and Miss G. for tea. To church twice. Am going to write to Aunt Mary tonight.”


This card depicts the Prince George Hotel on the northwest corner of King Street West and York Street. The card was mailed on February 4, 1913 to Mr. Floyd Gage, at 63 Penn Avenue, Binghamton N. Y. It reads: “Friend Floyd: I have been here a long time working with the Bowles Ltd., a large lunch concern and I am now receiving good pay. Am well and hope you are the same.” It is signed, “Your old friend, Samuel B. Wishart, 98 Mutual Street.” Perhaps the “Bowles Ltd.” that Samuel refers to was Bowles Lunch (restaurant) on the southeast corner of Bay and Queen Street West, across from today’s Old City Hall. 



This card depicts the boardwalk along the south shore of Centre Island that leads to Ward’s Island. The card was never mailed, but written in pencil on the back is: “November 30, 1908—to William from Grandpa.” Little William likely was handed the card as there are child’s scribbles in pencil all over the back of the card.  


This card was mailed from Portsmouth, England on November 13, 1915. It was sent to Miss Coles of 14 Craubury Avenue, Southhampton. It reads: “Saturday—M. D. A. We are leaving Portsmouth by the 8:55 train Sun. and look forward to seeing you all.” It is signed, “With love, Nellie.” It is assumed that Nellie or someone she knew had visited Toronto and purchased the card. The street in the upper right-hand corner is identified as “Pembroke Street. In the bottom right-hand corner is Wilton Street. The other streets are not named.


This intriguing postcard was mailed on September 9, 1918 by Royal Air Force Cadet #171953 #4 Div. Toronto. It was sent to Mrs. Georgette R. Prince, Suite 25, Arlington Block, Edmonton, Alberta. The message on the card was written in French. I wish I were able to translate it as war-time messages are particularly important in preserving the memories of difficult times in Canada’s history.

The churches depicted on the card are: clockwise from the left-hand corner, St. James Cathedral on King Street east, Holy Blossom Synagogue on Bathurst Street, Metropolitan United on Queen Street East, St. Michael’s on Bond Street, Jarvis Street Baptist, Knox Presbyterian on Spadina, and the Bond Street Congregational Church at Bond and Dundas Street East (now demolished).  


The card was mailed from Orillia, Ontario on November 10, 1955. It was sent to Miss Margaret Henry, 30 Annendale, Apt. 3, Kingston, Ontario. The picture is of Sick Children’s Hospital on University Avenue. The card reads: “ Dear Margaret, I have just returned home from Toronto. The David Scott’s address is 9809 19th Avenue North East, Seattle, Washington U. S. A. If Stanley would care to call on them? And do you still want Grey Squirrel for your coat?” The card is signed, “From E. Buchauau.” Note: A grey squirrel coat?

The cards that follow were never mailed so they have no messages or postage stamps on them to determine when they were purchased.


Toronto’s Old City Hall, after the gargoyles had been removed from the tower as they were in danger of falling into the street below.


          Children’s Playground on the west side of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion


Yonge Street in 1915, gazing north toward the College and Carlton Street intersection. The building on the left-hand side, with the rounded flat-topped towers, is the Odd Fellows Hall, built between 1891 and 1892. The streetcar in the distance that is making a right-hand turn from College Street, to proceed south on Yonge, is negotiating a jog in the roadway. This jog was eliminated when Eaton’s College Street was built in 1929, and Yonge Street was straightened. The clock tower of the old St. Charles Tavern is visible in the distance, on the west side of Yonge. The streetcar is a wooden car operated by the Toronto Railway Company. The TTC took over the system in 1921. The buildings on the west side of Yonge street, south of College, were demolished to erect the Eaton’s College Street Store. 


When the Royal York opened on June 11, 1929, it was the tallest building in the city. The hotel’s architects were Ross and Macdonald, with the firm of Sproat and Rolph. They chose the “Chateau Style, reflecting the latest Art Deco trends of the 1920s. The Royal York possesses a copper roof and touches of the Romanesque in the many arched windows in its podium. The 28-storey building originally had 1048 rooms.


The Royal Ontario Museum when its main entrance was on Queen’s Park. The Park Plaza Hotel is in the background, to the north of the museum.


Construction on the Eaton’s College Street store commenced in 1928 and it opened on October 30, 1930. The magnificent structure, the jewel in the crown of the retail empire of the T. Eaton Company, was designed in the Stripped Classical design that reflected Italian Art Deco styles of the period. The building’s architects were the firm of Ross and Macdonald, in association with Sproatt and Rolph. The store was intended to appeal to affluent customers. Unfortunately, by the time the Eaton’s College store opened, the Great Depression had descended across the nation.


Church street, where electric streetcar first appeared in 1891.  The view is looking south.


This view of the Humber Valley was taken after 1914, as in this year a stone bridge was built over the river to replace the former wooden structure destroyed by an ice storm. The Old Mill Tea Garden (the Old Mill Restaurant of today) opened in 1914, prior to the stone bridge being constructed. It is in the photo, but is barely visible as it was a small structure compared to the vast complex of today’s Old Mill Restaurant. 


In this view, the Royal York Hotel and the Bank of Commerce dominate the skyline. On the far left-hand side is the Terminal Building, now the Queen’s Quay Terminal. The cannon in the foreground remains at Centre Island but is now located near the ferry terminal.


This photo of the Ford Hotel may create memories for a few people. This hostelry was once among the finest in the city. Some may also remember the Murray Restaurants that were in several locations throughout the city. The Ford Hotel was located at Bay and Dundas Streets, across from the bus terminal. Unfortunately it eventually became rather shabby. It was finally closed and demolished.

A link to a previous post that explores the history of postcards in Canada:

To view the Home Page for this blog:

A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern.

A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

Recent publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.

A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 










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Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant—Toronto

Jadran 2011

   Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant aboard the “M.V. Jadran.” Photo, 2011.

The “M. V. Jadran,” where Captain John’s Seafood Restaurant was located, occupied a prime location on Toronto’s waterfront for many years. When the business venture failed, there was a search to find a new owner, but it was unsuccessful due to the taxes owed and the leasing difficulties imposed by the city. After the water supply to the ship was terminated, the restaurant closed, and in the ensuing years it became an empty rusting hulk. I kept hoping that someone would eventually purchase the ship and restore it, as having a floating restaurant on the city’s shoreline was a valuable asset for both Torontonians and tourists. However, it was not to be.

It was John Lenik who brought the M. V. Jadran to Toronto. Letnik escaped Communist Yugoslavia when he was 15 years old, arriving in Canada in 1957. He worked hard and eventually opened a restaurant named “Pop-In” at Dundas and McCaul Streets. Due to his success, he finally purchased the building where the eatery was located. On a trip to Yugoslavia to visit his family, he sailed from New York aboard the “S.S. France.” On this trip, he fell in love with dining on the high seas and dreamt of opening a floating restaurant in Toronto.

On his return to Toronto, following a two-year search, in 1969 Letnik bought the “M.V. Normac.” It was a small vessel, launched in 1902 in Port Huron, Michigan. It had been used for various purposes, including a Detroit fire boat and also a Tobermory ferry. Letnik sailed it to Toronto under its own steam and moored it at the foot of Yonge Street (1 Queens Quay). He opened his restaurant aboard it in August 1970. Its hull was painted flaming red and the superstructure was white. It was an attractive sight, moored alongside Queens Quay, in a decade when the city’s waterfront was mainly industrial. The Normac was one of the few signs of life at night in an area that otherwise was desolate. I retain fond memories of the vessel, as in the 1970s, during the summer months, Capt. John’s served an all-you-can-eat lobster buffet on the top deck of the Normac. Lobster—ice cold beer—and a harbour view—heaven!

Letnik expanded his business when he purchased the MV (Merchant Vessel) Jadran in 1975. The ship had been launched in 1957 in Pula, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). As a luxury cruise ship, it sailed the Mediterranean Sea, docking at ports along the Aegean and Adriatic Seas, as well as the Black Sea. After Letnik became its owner, he embarked on a 16-day trip to sail it from Yugoslavia to Toronto. Mooring it on Queens Quay, on the port side of the Normac, he commenced business in May 1976. As well as a public restaurant, the ship offered facilities for private parties, weddings, banquets and bar mitzvahs.

In 1981, the Normac was rammed by the Toronto Ferry the Trillium, when it lost power. The hull of the Normac was punctured below the water line. The incident happened when the ship was fully occupied by diners, but no one was injured. A patch was placed over the hole, but it did not seal the opening properly and a week later the boat sank. The insurance money was insufficient to re-float and restore the vessel, so Letnik was forced to sell it. It was towed to Cleveland, Ohio, where once more it became a seafood restaurant named Captain John’s. In 1995, it was taken to Port Dalhousie, Ontario, and renamed The Riverboat. Later, it was called Tokyo Joe’s, but on December 28, 2011 it was gutted by fire.

With the loss of the Normac, Capt. John required more space. He opened the floor above the main deck of the Jadran to diners, and the second-floor deck, named the Dubrovnik Room, was employed for larger functions. However, in the year ahead, business deteriorated, and debts increased due to his battles with the city over taxes. Finally, the ship’s water supply was cut. The back taxes and utility bills were said to be about $740,000 and without water, Capt. John’s Restaurant closed.

In May 2015, the saga of the Jadran ended when it was towed from the harbour and taken to a marine scrapyard in Port Colborne. Losing the ship was a great loss to the city of Toronto.

PICT0003 (2)

The Normac in the 1970s (left-hand side of the photo) and the Jadran in the background.


View from the south end of Capt. John’s pier in the 1970s. Both the Jadran and the Normac are visible. The glass-covered boats from Amsterdam that toured the lagoons of the Toronto Islands can also be seen. The boat in the foreground is one of these.


                                 The Normac at dockside in the 1970s.


The stern of the Jadran in the 1970s, gazing north toward the city. A small portion of the Normac is visible to the left of the Jadran’s stern.


                                      The bow of the Jadran in the 1970s.

                       View of damaged Captain John's ship, June 17, 1981

The Normac on June 18, 1981, after it sank because of being rammed by the Trillium. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, Fl0115, Item 7

View of "Captain John's" at the foot of York Street – July 9, 1984

             The Jadran on July 9, 1984. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 113, Item 67


The hull of Captain John’s ship the Jadran in the 2011, when it still managed to resemble a luxury cruise ship.


Sign advertising Captain John’s in 2011, the sign attached to a shed to the right of pier that led to the gangplank for boarding the Jadran.


                  The Jadran in 2011, moored at the foot of Yonge Street.


The Jadran in 2011, taken from a patio to the west of the ship, facing the port side of the ship.

Note: The author is grateful to information provided by The 1970s photos of the Jadran and the Normac were derived from 35mm Kodachrome slides taken by the author. 

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern, and Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016, entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” 

“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage buildings. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 


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