Troubles with the Loyal Orange Order

March of Orangemen near Metcalfe, Ontario, July. 12, 1900. Library and Archives Canada C-122938.


When the Orange Order rode into Upper Canada in 1822 with a parade through the streets of York, it was very much an establishment occasion, but eight months later a petition was moved in the House of Assembly to have the outfit outlawed.

The fraternal organization that commemorated the victory of William of Orange in the Battle of Boyne in 1690 was a bastion of Protestant privilege and a source of endless conflict with Irish Catholics.

The most prominent Orange man when King Billy first rode his white horse in an Upper Canada Orange parade was an ultra establishment man, the Reverend John Strachan. He was a pillar of the Family Compact, a member of the Executive Council, the founder of the University of Toronto, the first Anglican Bishop of Toronto, and a fierce defender of the exclusive right of the Anglican Church to all the clergy lands that had been set aside to support protestant religion in Upper Canada, spurning all others, even his former Presbyterian church.

The first Orange parade in Upper Canada was briefly reported in the Family Compact organ, The Upper Canada Gazette, July 18, 1822:

“The Members of the York Lodge assembled at the Lodge Room on the 12th inst. to celebrate the anniversary of KING WILLIAM THE THIRD, PRINCE OF ORANGE. At Two O’clock they Marched in Procession to Church, accompanied by the Band of the West York Militia, where the Hon. and Rev. Dr. Strachan gave an elegant and appropriate Discourse on the occasion.—After Divine Service they returned to Mr. Phairs’ Tavern, where upwards of one hundred Members sat down to an elegant Dinner, prepared for their reception. They remained until a later hour.”

The motion in the Legislature for a petition to ban Orange Order (published in the Kingston Chronicle March 28, 1823) was made by John Macdonnel, a Roman Catholic member of the House. “A political party, termed an Orange Association, has reared its head in the town of York, by a public parade, and display of party colours,” Macdonnel noted.

For the past 30 years in Ireland, Macdonell claimed, “the twelfth of July has never passed by without some deplorable Calamity occasioned by Orange processions—and that as often as the Orange Flag has been unfurled in that Country, it has almost uniformly been stained with blood.”

The troubles, he warned, had already broken out in Lower Canada with Irish labourers and seemed likely to spread to Upper Canada.

“It has also appeared, by the public Newspapers, that the LaChine Canal, and we believe, in other parts of this Country, some of these ignorant and misguided individuals have already commenced the work of riot and disorder.—The like proceedings may also be fairly anticipated in this province, as soon as our resources may enable us to prosecute the intended improvement of our inland navigation.”

The petition asked for the adoption of “such salutary measures as may, for ever, prevent the establishment of exclusive Societies, and party distinctions, in this heretofore peaceable and happy colony, and thereby suppress in its infancy an evil which, if allowed to arrive at maturity, will not only check emigration to, but, unquestionably drive many respectable and industrious inhabitants from this country—prove a scourge to those who may remain, and deluge the province with contentious riots, and bloodshed.”

The elected members of the Parliament of Upper Canada could petition Maitland and his Executive Council as often as they wished, but it was only advice, which could be—and frequently was—simply rejected. With Orangemen of the stature of Strachan on the appointed Executive Council, the way was kept clear for King Billy to ride his white horse on thousands of July 12 parades in countless villages, towns and cities.

A plea for peace and harmony

The Brockville Recorder, July 20, 1830,in the following item, sounds a plea for religious liberty, peace and harmony between Orangemen and Roman Catholics.

We regret to hear that accounts from the neighborhood of Port Hope speak of active preparations for Orange progressions, and party quarrels between members of that body and the Roman Catholic settlers of Peterborough. We hope these accounts may be incorrect—the Orangemen of this neighborhood have prudently discontinued all offensive display, and they and their Catholic neighbors now live together in peace and harmony.

We know that at the head of the Lake [Lake Ontario], Irishmen only recognize each other as fellow-countrymen, without religious distinction and that the utmost cordiality prevails amongst them. We therefore fondly hope this good example will be followed in all parts of the country, and that every Irishman, who thirsts not after human blood, and desires not his own degradation and that of his native land, will be aiding and assisting to check religious animosity, do away with party spirit, put an end to party quarrels, and foster and maintain peace, harmony and good-will among our fellow countrymen of all religious denominations. This is not a country of intolerance and religious persecution—it is a land of civil and religious liberty—and those that think they can turn it into a theatre for party parade and party quarrels, be they Orangemen or Roman Catholics, will fail in the attempt, and only expose themselves to the censure and ridicule of the country at large.

Blind folly

Canadian Freeman, in York, June 23, 1831 (three years before it became Toronto), laments blind folly and animosity in a land of religious liberty.

This, thank God, is a land of religious liberty, where every man enjoys the freedom of conscience, and every Irishman whose blood has been by one or two Canadian winters must see the blind folly of party spirit and religious animosity, so long the scourge and degradation of his native land.—A day, then is approaching which has not passed by, in Ireland, for many years, without riot and bloodshed.

In this Province, too, some of our pious countrymen have attempted to butcher each other, for the sake of religion, at Kingston and elsewhere, on the memorable day of Christian benevolence, to the great edification of other Christians from all quarters of the globe. But we call upon every Irishman… Orangeman or Catholic, to aid and assist in putting down such folly as party processions, party quarrels, and religious animosity, which have long been the bane and ruin of our native land, and the reproach of Irishmen all over the world.

Troops called out

In Montreal, more than 2,000 troops and 500 special constables were called out to keep July 12 peaceful in 1878. Frequent violence marked earlier Montreal Orange Day parades during half a century. The 1877 parade ended with the fatal shoot of a young, armed Orangeman, John Hackett. “Everyone seemed to have a revolver,” eye witnesses later testified.
orangemen-escorted-1878Protestant clergy, including the Anglican bishop, appealed to Orangemen to forgo their 1878 demonstrations and parade. The Orangemen were having none of that. The local order planned not only to proceed, but were counting on outside participation from other chapters. They found support from the Montreal Daily Star, arguing, six days before the event, that Orangemen had every right to a peaceful parade, and if violence ensued, it would not be they who were to blame.

The mayor issued a proclamation “that no assemblage or gathering shall be allowed.” The troops encamped on Dominion Square July 11. A group of Orangemen defied the order, but the number of troops and police prevented violence. The Orange County Master and the Parade Marshall were both arrested. The rest of the Orange marchers were driven home in cabs, with armed police escort (see image from Canadian Illustrated News, July 27, 1878.) It was rather anti-climatic.

10,000 Oranges

Forty-six years later, Toronto witnessed what is possibly Canada’s largest Orange parade. There was no hint of violence on that sunny Saturday, July 12, 1924. “Glorious weather favored the Glorious Twelfth,” the Globe reported. “… a bright and animated picture was presented when the huge procession, gay with many colors, and to the accompaniment of music provided by fifty bands, passed along the city streets on its way to the Exhibition Grounds.” The Globe estimated the Orange marchers at “nearly 10,000,” while 20,000 Torontonians turned out for Glorious Twelfth events at city parks.

English only

As late as 1929, the Orange Lodge in Prince Albert demanded all the federal government’s bilingual forms in Saskatchewan be printed in English only, the Regina Leader Post reported October 16. The Lodge also passed a resolution promising to “strenuously oppose and… frustrate all attempts” to place Oh Canada “on a parity with the Empire’s national anthem, ‘God Save the King.’”

For nearly a century and a half, the Orange order was one of the most powerful political forces in Canada, drawing membership from working men to politicians the stature of John A. Macdonald. With riots, broken bones and bloodshed, more would be heard of this controversial order before, in Canada at least, it finally faded into deserved obscurity by the late twentieth century.

Unfamiliar Canadian history stories 089


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