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(Posted 10:30 p.m., Sept. 22)
New book tells history of Navan landmark
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

The 'Domes of Navan: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow' is a new book that tells the story of the navan Domes.. File photo


On Sept. 20, 1984, more than 250,000 people gathered on Lebreton Flats to see and hear Pope John Paul II deliver mass on the final day of his 11 day cross-Canada tour.

The mass was held under a steel structure of towers and canvas-covered conical domes designed by Ottawa architect Pat Murray and consrtructed by Raymond Steel. Forty-four days later, three of the towers and four of the five domes were transported by air and land to the Navan fairgrounds where they have remained ever since.

A new book compiled by Ross Bradley, Verna Cotton, Dorothy-Jane Smith and Randall Ash tells the history of the domes from the time they served as the Pope's alter on Lebreton Flats to the present day at the fairgrounds where they were recently used to host a delegation from Navan, Ireland.

In between, they have watched over 28 Navan Fairs, a number of street dance parties, a handful of community fun days and even a wedding.

The story of how the domes ended up in Navan begins several days after the mass was held. Raymond Steel was responsible for dismantling the stucture and getting rid of it. They called Peter Clark, who at that time was the mayor of Cumberland Township.

The domes as they appeared on Lebreton Flats for the papal mass in 1984. Fred Sherwin/Photo


Intrigued by the opportunity, Clark met with councillors Ray Friel and Gerry Lalonde to dicscuss what, if anything, they could do with them. They were having a coffee in the Navan Restaurant when Robin Briggs walked in.

Briggs was a member of the Cumberland Township Agriculture Society which at that time organized the Navan Fair. The Society had just found out they were about to lose $76,000 in capital grants from a sunsetting government program for fairground improvemens. The group had also been discussing ways to reduce the costs of the Navan Fair beer tent.

Briggs would later say it was a coming together of fortuitous circumstances.

The town coucnil eventually agreed to have the steel structures transported to Navan at a coat of $6,000 even though the Agricultural Society wasn't sure exactly what they would do with them. If worse came to worse, they would sell them for scrap at an estimated value of $30,000.

On Nov. 3, 1984 the first of the steel domes was transported to Navan by Sikorsky helicopter. The helicopter traveled down the Ottawa River before making a righthand turn up Trim Road. The towers were transported by flat bed truck with a police escort.

Pope John Paul II performs mass on Lebreton Flats on the final day of his visit to Canada in 1984. Fred Sherwin/Photo


The structures remained on the fairgrounds during the winter while local architect Harry Ala-Kantti drew up a layout. The largest of the domes would cover an outdoor stage. One dome would form the roof of the new kitchen and the others would be used to cover a series of picnic tables.

The domes were erected and the stage and kitchen constructed in time for the 1985 Navan Fair at a cost of $240,000.

The domes have been re-covered twice. The original canvass only lasted four years despite being removed every fall and placed back every spring. The canvass was replaced by fibreglass panels in 1989. They lasted 21 years before being replaced by steel as part of an extensive refurbishment in 2010 in which the structure was dismantled, stripped and repainted, and the footings repoured.

With continued maintencance the Navan Domes should be around for years to come so that future generations can enjoy their presence.

"The Domes of Navan: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow" can be purchase for $20 at J.T. Bradley's Country Convenience Store in Navan.

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

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