History of Orange Order in Canada Is a Riot

Canadian Speeches, December 1997 | Go to article overview

History of Orange Order in Canada Is a Riot


Once a potent and controversial force in Canadian politics, the Grand Orange Lodge of Canada, has been a focal point of ethnic and religious tensions between Protestants and Roman Catholics, French Canadians and English-speaking Canadians. Many members of Parliament were Orangemen, including prime ministers John A. Macdonald and Mackenzie Bowell. The annual Orange Day parade, led by King Billy on a White Horse, was once a highlight of summer in cities and villages across Canada, often marked by conflict, riots and violence, and at least one reported murder.

Based on the fraternal society established in Ireland in 1759 to commemorate the victory of William of Orange at the Battle of Boyne in 1690 which crushed Britain's last Catholic king, the Orange Order was seen by its supporters as a bastion of liberty and national loyalty. To its opponents, it was a nest of bigotry and intolerance. The political platform off the Orange Order in Canada has been summarized as "the defence of Protestant Christianity and the unity off the British Empire -- one school, one flag, one language." It did not go over well in Quebec.

The early history of the Orange Order in Canada was recalled by a Grand Master of the association in this article in the Ottawa Journal, July 11, 1900.

The following article on the growth of the Orange Order in Canada by Hon. N. Clarke Wallace, M.P. Worshipful Grand Master, will prove interesting locally in connection with the big Orange demonstration here tomorrow:

Over 70 years ago in the town of Brockville, Mr. Ogle H. Gown and a small band of his loyal fellow-townsmen established the first Orange Lodge in British America. That was the beginning of the Orange Order in Canada. Brockville Loyal Orange Lodge No. 1 is still in existence, but today it's members are able to join hands with the tens of thousands of Canadian Orangemen who stretch from one end of this broad Dominion to the other. From the struggling little lodge of 1829 had grown a great organization embracing today more than 1,800 primary lodges besides district, county and provincial Grand Lodges. Since the first institution of the Orange Order in Canada there has been a steady and solid growth until the present moment, when the Order is inculcating and spreading its principles of loyalty, liberty and true patriotism in every province of the Dominion.

Mr. Gowan, who was by the way a relative of the present Senator Gowan, came to Canada from Ireland early in the twenties and settled in Brockville, where he afterwards founded a newspaper. For many years he represented Leeds and Grenville in Parliament. He was associated with Trinity College, Dublin, and was well-known as a writer and orator of no mean ability.

About 1828 he acquired from the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland power to establish lodges in Canada, and shortly afterwards the first Canadian lodge was established, as has just been stated, at Brockville. Previous to this it is true there had been several lodges formed in the Maritime Provinces among the soldiers of the British regiments stationed there, but these were more of a temporary and transitory character. The establishment of the Brockville lodge was quickly followed by the formation of several other lodges in the vicinity, and in 1839 the first Grand Orange Lodge of British America was formed with Mr. Gowan as the first Grand Master. The membership, of course, was very small but the members were enthusiastic and during the following years the growth of the order was steady and gratifying.

Feud Arose

Mr. Gowan continued to hold the office of Grande Master for a number of years until a feud arose in the Order between the adherents of Mr. George Benjamin of Belleville and the adherents of Mr. Gowan. The former, who was the political godfather of brother Orangeman, Sir Mackenzie Bowell [later prime minister, 1894-96] established a second Ontario Grand Lodge, and for a year there was considerable strife between the Belleville and Brockville sections of the Order. …

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