The Orange Order is a Protestant fraternal organisation based predominantly in Northern Ireland and Scotland, but with members throughout Canada.


The Orange Order has existed in Canada at least since 1830 when the Grand Orange Lodge of British North America was established. Although this date is often given as the beginning of Canadian Orangeism, there is evidence of Orangeism earlier in Canada, with definite records of Orangemen involved in the War of 1812. Most early members were from Ireland, but later many English, Scots, and other Protestant Europeans joined the Order.

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. A notable exception to Orange predominance occurred in London, Ontario, where Catholic and Protestant Irish formed a non-sectarian Irish society in 1877.

The Orange Order played an important role in the crisis over the 1885 trial of Louis Riel for treason. The Canadian prime minister of the day, Sir John A. Macdonald, is believed to have refused to commute Riel's death sentence because he calculated that there were more Orange votes to be got by hanging Riel than there were Quebec votes to be got by sparing him. He is famously quoted as saying "Riel must die though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour." [1]

The Orange Order became a central facet of life in Ontario, 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. At its height in 1942 16 of the 23 members of city council were members of the Orange Order.[2] 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 radical Orange leader Leslie Howard Saunders.

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.

After 1945, the Canadian Orange Order rapidly declined in membership and political clout. 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.

Orangemen and War

In 1913, the Orange Association of Manitoba volunteered a regiment to fight with the Ulster Volunteers against the British government if Home Rule were to be introduced to Ireland.

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 in to the local militia by the Mayor of Toronto and then resisted Mackenzie's march down Yonge Street in 1837.

They were involved in fighting unsuccessfully against the Fenians at Ridgeway, Ontario 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 call to arms by Bro. Sir Samuel Hughes, the Canadian Minister for War and member of LOL 557 Lindsay Ontario, resulted in some 80,000 members from Canada volunteering for service during the First World War.

Prominent Members

Four members 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. Possibly because of the number of Irish Newfoundlanders, many of the diplomats who negotiated the Terms of Union between Newfoundland and Canada in 1947 were members of the Orange Lodge: Joseph Smallwood, P.W. Crummey and F.G. Bradley.

Orangeman Alexander James Muir (Ontario LOL 142) 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, but was ultimately rejected primarily on grounds of verses which were considered hostile to French Canadians.


  1. Howard, Joseph Kinsey (1994). Strange Empire: A Narrative of the Northwest. Minnesota Historical Society Press. p. 545. ISBN 0-87351-298-7. 
  2. Leslie Howard Saunders. An Orangeman in public life: the memoirs of Leslie Howard Saunders. Britannia Printers, 1980. pg. 85

Houston, Cecil J., and William J. Smyth. The Sash Canada Wore: A Historical Geography of the Orange Order in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980.

O'Connor, Ryan. “‘…you can beat us in the House of Assembly, but you can’t beat us in the street’: The Symbolic Value of Charlottetown’s Orange Lodge Riot, 1877,” Historical Studies (Volume 72, 2006), pp. 71-94.

See also

External links

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