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    Loyal Orange Order threatens Canada’s peace

    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.

    An Orange Day parade near Metcalfe, Ontario, July 12, 1900. Archives Canada C-122938

    An Orange Day parade near Metcalfe, Ontario, July 12, 1900. Archives Canada C-122938

    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 for a petition of the House of Assembly to Lieutenant Governor Peregrine Maitland and the Executive Council (published in the Kingston Chronicle March 28, 1823) was made by John Macdonnel, a Roman Catholic member of the House, and noted that “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.”


    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.

    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.

    TAGS: Religion, Sectarianism, Orange Order, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Irish, Family Compact, Upper Canada, Ontario, William of Orange.


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