Orange Order in Canada
The Grand Orange Lodge of British America, more commonly known as the Grand Orange Lodge of Canada or simply Orange Order in Canada, is the Canadian branch of the Orange Order, a Protestant fraternal organization that began in County Armagh, Ireland, in 1795. It has played a large part in the history of Canada, with many prominent members including four Prime Ministers, among them Sir John A. Macdonald and John Diefenbaker, as well as Tommy Douglas, founder of the New Democratic Party.
Upper Canada and the Province of Canada
It is a matter of deep regret that political differences should have run high in this place, and led to most discreditable and disgraceful results. It is not long since guns were discharged from a window in this town at the successful candidates in an election, and the coachman of one of them was actually shot in the body, though not dangerously wounded. But one man was killed on the same occasion; and from the very window whence he received his death, the very flag which shielded his murderer (not only in the commission of his crime, but from its consequences), was displayed again on the occasion of the public ceremony performed by the Governor General, to which I have just adverted. Of all the colours in the rainbow, there is but one which could be so employed: I need not say that flag was orange.— Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation, 1842
The Orange Lodges have existed in Canada at least since the War of 1812. The first Lodge was established in Montreal by William Burton, Arthur Hopper, John Dyer, Francis Abbott and several others. William Burton travelled to Ireland to obtain the warrant to open the Lodge from the Grand Lodge of Ireland and became the first Grand Master of the Montreal Lodge. In the following years Arthur Hopper was elected the next Grand Master and given the power of granting warrants to subordinate Lodges under the Great Seal of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. The first such Lodge was granted to Robert Birch of Richmond. The Order was more formally organized in 1830 when Ogle Robert Gowan established the Grand Orange Lodge of British North America in the Upper Canada town of Elizabethtown, which became Brockville in 1832 (according to the plaque outside the original lodge in Brockville, Ontario). Gowan immigrated from Ireland in 1829, and became the Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of British North America. His father was the grand master of the Irish Orange Order. Most early members were from Ireland, but later many Scots, English and other Protestant Europeans joined the Order, Jews in addition to Amerindians, such as those in the Mohawk Orange Lodge which survives into the present day.
The Order was the chief social institution in Upper Canada, organizing many community and benevolent activities, and helping Protestant immigrants to settle. It remained a predominant political force in southern Ontario well into the twentieth century. There were scores of socially prominent citizens who were granted honorary membership but did not actually participate in official lodge business. Surprisingly given its great prestige, although there were many members drawn from the upper and middle classes, lodge membership was predominantly drawn from the ranks of labourers, street railway workers, teamsters, and other elements of the working class. Besides sentimental patriotic or imperialist motivations, many Orangemen joined because the benefits of mutual aid, security, and health supports made it easier to survive the difficulties of working class life. Middle class members, such as professionals, small-shop owners, and tavern-keepers, saw membership in terms of commercial gain through the steady attraction of lodge members as clientele. The Order’s secrecy, solemn oaths, and masonic-type rituals bonded men together as part of a greater whole, and dressing in the order’s distinctive sash and regalia for the Twelfth of July parade let members show off their status and achievements to the greater community. The Grand Orange Lodge of British America Benefit Fund was established in 1881 to provide fraternal benefits to members and remains as a modern insurance system.
Protestant ascendency and politics in Toronto
The Grand Orange Lodge of British America was established in Toronto in 1830, and it expanded steadily so that there were over 20 lodges in 1860, 31 in 1880, and 56 by 1895. At the turn of the century Toronto was nicknamed "The Belfast of Canada". Historian Hereward Senior has noted that the Orange Order’s political ideal was expressed in the word “ascendancy.” "This meant, in effect, control of the volunteer militia, of much of the machinery of local government, and substantial influence with the Dublin administration. Above all, it meant the ability to exert pressure on magistrates and juries which gave Orangemen a degree of immunity from the law. Their means of securing ascendancy had been the Orange lodges which provided links between Irish Protestants of all classes. This ascendancy often meant political power for Protestant gentlemen and a special status for Protestant peasants." In the context of Toronto, such ascendancy was sought through the Corporation (as the administration of the city of Toronto was known). By 1844, six of Toronto’s ten aldermen were Orangemen, and over the rest of the nineteenth century twenty of twenty-three mayors would be as well.
“Ascendancy,” or control of this legal and political machinery, gave the Orange Order a monopoly on the use of “legitimate” violence. Between 1839 and 1866, the Orange Order was involved in 29 riots in Toronto, of which 16 had direct political inspiration.
Province of Alberta
Historian William Baergen notes that White Anglo Saxon Protestantism (WASP) was a foundational feature of the early settlement in Alberta. He notes that as immigrants from non-Anglo-Saxon regions of Europe entered the province in greater numbers between 1921 and 1931 that there was a corresponding rise in "Anglo-Saxon racism, anti-Catholicism and immigrant phobia". Baergen says that "the more radical white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were represented by the Orange Order, and formed the essence of the anti-Catholic and anti-foreigner agenda that emerged in Alberta during the period from 1929–1933. Baergen notes that "Wherever the dominance of the British way appeared threatened, an Orange Lodge could be expected to appear."
In a letter to Alberta Premier Brownlee on December 13, 1927, the Hesketh Loyal Orange Lodge, No. 3013 congratulated the Premier on his stand restricting immigration to the province, saying "By unanimous vote of the members of this lodge... I have been instructed to write and congratulate you on your stand re THE EMIGRATION POLICY and its ADMINISTRATION [sic]"
Control of 'the Corporation'
The Orange Order became a central facet of life in many parts of Canada, especially in the business centre of Toronto where many deals and relationships were forged at the lodge. Toronto politics, especially on the municipal level, were almost wholly dominated by the Orange Order. The highly influential weekly newspaper, The Sentinel, promoted Protestant social and political views and was widely circulated throughout North America. At its height in 1942, 16 of the 23 members of city council were members of the Orange Order. Every mayor of Toronto in the first half of the twentieth century was an Orangeman. This continued until the 1954 election when the Jewish Nathan Phillips defeated staunch Orange leader Leslie Howard Saunders.
The Orangemen, members of the various Ottawa, Westboro and Billings Bridge Lodges as well as lodges from outlying towns paraded from the Orange Hall, Gloucester Street to St. Matthew's Anglican Church (Ottawa) on July 10, 1938.
In the rest of British America
The Orange Lodge was a centre for community activity in Newfoundland. For example, in 1903 Sir William Coaker founded the Fisherman's Protective Union (F.P.U.) in an Orange Hall in Herring Neck. Furthermore, during the term of Commission of Government (1934–1949), the Orange Lodge was one of only a handful of "democratic" organizations that existed in the Dominion of Newfoundland. It supported Newfoundland's confederation with Canada in reaction to Catholic bishops' support for self-government.
The Orange Order was also a force in New Brunswick, such that riots surrounding Orange marches occurred in the 1840s (a period of Irish mass immigration) in New Brunswick. Even tiny Woodstock, New Brunswick experienced a riot in 1847 on The Twelfth (July 12, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne), near a now vanished Orange Hall at the corner of Victoria and Boyne streets. The height of conflict was a riot in Saint John, New Brunswick on July 12, 1849, in which at least 12 people died. The violence subsided as Irish immigration declined, though even in 1884, 3 were killed in Harbour Grace in the "usual" "collision" "between Orangemen and Roman Catholics".
After 1945, the Canadian Orange Order rapidly declined in membership and political influence. The development of the welfare state made its fraternal society functions less important. A more important cause of the decline was the secularization of Canadian society: with fewer Canadians attending churches of any sort, the old division between Protestant and Catholic seemed less relevant. Perhaps even more important was the decline of the British Empire and consequently the reduced value of maintaining the 'British Connection' which had always underpinned the Order. The Twelfth remains a provincial holiday in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador under the name Orangeman's Day.
Orangemen and war
Orangemen played a big part in suppressing the Upper Canada Rebellion of William Lyon Mackenzie in 1837. Though the rebellion was short-lived, 317 Orangemen were sworn into the local militia by the Mayor of Toronto and then resisted Mackenzie's march down Yonge Street in 1837.
They were involved in resisting the Fenians at the Battle of Ridgeway in 1866. An obelisk there marks the spot where Orangemen died in defending the colony against an attack by members of Clan na Gael (commonly known as Fenians).
Orangemen in western Canada helped suppress the rebellions of Louis Riel in 1870 and 1885. The murder of abducted Orangeman Thomas Scott was a turning point in the 1870 Red River Rebellion which caused the Dominion government to launch the Red River Expedition to restore order. The first Orange Warrant in Manitoba and the North West Territories was carried by a member of this expedition.
Four members of the Orange Order have been Prime Ministers of Canada, namely Sir John A. Macdonald, the father of Canadian Confederation, Sir John Abbott, Sir Mackenzie Bowell (a past Grand Master), and John Diefenbaker, in addition to many Ontario Premiers.
Possibly influenced by the number of Irish Newfoundlanders, the majority of whom were Roman Catholic, several of the diplomats who negotiated the Terms of Union between Newfoundland and Canada in 1947 were members of the Orange Order: Joseph Smallwood, P.W. Crummey (a past Newfoundland Grand Master) and F.G. Bradley (a past Newfoundland Grand Master). In fact, the Orange Order played an important role in bringing Newfoundland into Confederation.
Tommy Douglas, social activist and politician, was the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan (1944–1961), and the first leader of the New Democratic Party. He is most notably credited as being the Father of Medicare.
Orangeman Alexander James Muir (Ontario) wrote both the music and lyrics to the Canadian patriotic song "The Maple Leaf Forever" in 1867. The song was considered for the role of National Anthem in the 1960s.
The 17th Governor General, Lord Alexander of Tunis was reputedly a member of the Orange Order as noted by the Grand Orange Lodge of British America, although the source reference notes that he was born in Ulster, which is incorrect.
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- Kealey, Gregory S. (1984). Victor L. Russell (ed.). "Orangemen and the Corporation: The Politics of Class during the Union of the Canadas" in Forging a Consensus: Historical Essays on Toronto. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 42.
- William Peter Baergen, The Ku Klux Klan in Central Alberta, Central Alberta Historical Society, 2000, p. 8
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- "Town solicitor 43 years George Dudley stricken". Midland Free Press. Midland, Ontario. May 11, 1960. p. 11.