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REMEMBER THIS: Orange Lodge thrived in early Newmarket

In this week's column, History Hound Richard MacLeod highlights the prominence and authority of the Order when Newmarket was predominantly a Protestant community from about 1820 to 1940

This article recounts the establishment and history of the Orange Lodge in Ontario and specifically in the Newmarket area to inform those who perhaps do not know much about its place in our history. There have been many organizations like the Orange Lodge over the course of history of this area, and I hope to highlight some of these other groups in future articles.

Records tell us an Orange Lodge office was opened in 1856 in Newmarket. No further record is found until 1888 when “an Orange Lodge was reorganized” here in Newmarket with the following men installed as officers: Master, Jas. Ballard; Deputy-Master, Jas. Meads; Recording Secretary, William McCordick; Chaplain, Walter Bingham; Treasurer, Nelson Foote.

It is surprising given the organization’s prominence that it has not been better documented by historians in their writings. The Orange Lodge was essentially a Protestant Defence League that thrived in this area from about 1820 to 1940. The Protestant belief and the Protestant "way of life" held sway with those who immigrated to this area, and this may still be true to a certain extent. Newmarket was predominantly a Protestant community from its founding and its history reflects that fact.

My grandfather was an Orangeman and while he maintained that he joined as a local businessman in need of the advantages afforded people who were members of the lodge, he always maintained that he did not subscribe to its goals, just its extensive connections. I suspect this was the case for many in Newmarket.

Let us begin with a short history of the club, society, lodge, whatever you choose to call it.

Today’s Orange Society was founded in Ireland in 1795; though the first Orange Societies or Clubs existed in Great Britain as early as 1686, their purpose, the selection of William of Orange as king of Great Britain and Ireland. That explains the name.

The first Orange Lodge was established at the Diamond in the north of Ireland in 1795 and the first general meeting of the society in Ireland is recorded as having taken place July 12, 1796 at Portadown. When religious terror broke out that same year, some 20,000 Orangemen were called to assist the civil authorities and were subsequently armed to establish peace and order.

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 local 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 through 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 10 aldermen were Orangemen, and over the rest of the 19th century, 20 of 23 mayors would be as well. At the turn of the century Toronto was nicknamed "The Belfast of Canada". We see a similar pattern here in Newmarket.

The Orange movement rapidly spread over Ireland and subsequently into other jurisdictions around the world, including England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S.A., and Canada. The seeds of active Protestantism had, at one time, sprouted Orange Lodges in such unlikely places as Cuba, British Honduras, Bermuda, Hong Kong and South Africa.

Orangeism appears to have been introduced into Canada about 1820, but it was not until 1830 that a Grand Lodge for British North America was formed in Toronto under the presidency of Ogle Robert Gowan, who was in 1832 appointed deputy grand master of all the provinces of British North America.

It would expand steadily, there being more than 20 lodges in 1860, 31 in 1880, and 56 by 1895.

There are historians who maintain that Orangemen were in Canada prior to 1812 and by 1822 the July 12 Orange Parade in Toronto had become the most popular event of the day.

It is important to remember that the Orange Association is technically a secret society. They organized social functions and provided support for their members, making it resemble, in many respects, like a benevolent society. The various lodges were important in easing the integration of Protestant immigrants into our area in the 19th century.

While the history and origins of the Orange Order are rooted in the sectarian struggles that pitted the Catholics and the Protestants of Ireland against each other, in Canada the main target of the Order was our French-Canadian brethren who were seen as the pre-eminent representatives of the Catholic faith in the country. At various times, the Order has accused French Canadians of dominating the federal government in Canada, of spreading the dominion of the pope in the country (what the Order called "Popery"), of undermining British institutions and of disloyalty to England and the Empire.

Historically, the Canadian lodges have opposed strenuously the extension of denominational schools in Canada and the rights of the French language. In short, they support the concept in Canada of one language (English), one school system (public non-denominational), and one loyalty (the British Crown and Empire). There are certainly instances when the Orangemen were political allies of the Roman Catholics, especially in the 19th century.

Politically, the Order was a force to be reckon with in Canada, especially in the second half of the 19th century and its influence was felt all the way through to the 1950s. Nationally, four members of the Orange Order have been prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir John Abbott, Sir Mackenzie Bowell (a past Grand Master), and John Diefenbaker, in addition to many Ontario premiers.

In relative terms, the Order was strongest in Newfoundland, Alberta, and Ontario and the celebrations associated with the "glorious 12th of July" frequently degenerated into violence and rioting, especially in the 19th century.

The Orangemen played a big part in our history given their numbers and political reach.  While a large segment of Newmarket’s population supported the Upper Canada Rebellion of William Lyon Mackenzie in 1837, the local Orangemen played a big role in its suppression. Though the rebellion was short-lived, 317 Orangemen were sworn into the local militia and then resisted Mackenzie's march down Yonge Street.

They were heavily involved in resisting the Fenians at the Battle of Ridgeway in 1866 and an obelisk marks the spot where Orangemen died in defending the colony against the Fenians.

Elsewhere in Canada, the Orangemen helped to suppress the rebellions of Louis Riel in 1870 and 1885 spurred no doubt by the killing of abducted Orangeman Thomas Scott in the 1870. 

The Orange Lodge was involved in election riots in Toronto and area. Their policy of ascendancy 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.

None other than Charles Dickens, commenting on the 1841 Toronto Orange violence in an American publication in 1842, said, "It is a matter of deep regret that political differences should have run so high in this place, and led to most discreditable and disgraceful results. Of all the colours in the rainbow, there is but one which could be so employed: I need not say that flag was orange." It appears he was not a member of the lodge.

Since the association was founded in Canada, it spread to all the provinces; and there are Provincial Grand Lodges in every province, with primary, district, and county lodges under them, as well as kindred or subsidiary orders, such as the Orange Young Britons, Loyal True Blues, and the Ladies' Orange Benevolent Association.

One of the principals of the association have them meeting and parading every July 12 to celebrate the victory won at the Battle of the Boyne by William, Prince of Orange, over the forces of the Catholic King James II in 1690. These demonstrations have, on various occasions, been accompanied by some disorder; but recently they have been more peaceful.

The Association has had several prominent members nationally in this area. It may be interesting to discover whether there is an ‘Orange’ in your family tree. Many in Newmarket’s political and business community were loyal Orangemen, honorary or full.

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). It has been said the Orange Order played an important role in bringing Newfoundland into Confederation.

Tommy Douglas, social activist, politician (premier of Saskatchewan), and the first leader of the New Democratic Party and Father of Medicare was in fact a high-ranking member.

Of interest locally, Orangeman Alexander James Muir wrote both the music and lyrics to the Canadian patriotic song "The Maple Leaf Forever" in 1867 and for whom the Alexander Muir school was named.

Until the late 1960s, almost all mayors of Toronto were Orangemen with William Dennison being the last Orangeman to serve in office (1967-1972).

Being a member of the Orange Lodge, along with the Masonic Order. was seen as a ticket to local power and prosperity according to the local records.

The Orangemen paraded and participated in our local activities prominently. As I mentioned in my article on the coming of the Catholic Church to Newmarket, the Orangemen opposed the construction of the church within town limits and even the establishment of said church, continuing to closely monitor its attendance. The anti-Catholic sentiment in our early years was stirred by this organization. (See this video for some background -

Of local interest is this clipping from a local newspaper: On July 12, 1934, the band took part in an Orange parade in Toronto, becoming known at that time as the R.S.A. Bugle Band, officers of the Sentinel lodge reporting the name to the Toronto papers and recording it in their minutes of the parade.

The Order was the chief social institution in Upper Canada, organizing many community and benevolent activities, and helping Protestant immigrants settle. It remained a predominant political force in southern Ontario well into the 20th century.

There were scores of socially prominent citizens who were granted honorary membership but did not actually participate in official lodge business. Given its great prestige, the organization consisted not only of members drawn from the upper and middle classes, but 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 of the benefits of mutual aid, security, and health supports that made it easier to survive the difficulties of a 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.

After 1945, the Canadian Orange Order rapidly declined in membership and political influence. The development of the welfare state made its fraternal society functions of less importance. 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 seemingly less relevant.

The rapid immigration to Canada post war changed the national demographic. Perhaps even more important was the decline of the British Empire and consequently the reduced value of maintaining the 'British Connection' that had always underpinned the Order. The Twelfth still does remain a provincial holiday in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador under the name Orangeman's Day.

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About the Author: Richard MacLeod

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years
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