Today Wed Thu
It is forecast to be Clear at 11:00 PM EDT on August 19, 2014
It is forecast to be Thunderstorm at 11:00 PM EDT on August 20, 2014
It is forecast to be Chance of a Thunderstorm at 11:00 PM EDT on August 21, 2014
Chance of a Thunderstorm



Historicist: Orangemen and The Glorious Twelfth of July

Every Saturday morning, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters—good and bad—that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.
Photo of Orange Parade at Queen’s Park in 1912. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1388.
Nowadays, the Orange Order is thought of as a quaint anachronism, a benevolent society that marches every twelfth of July to commemorate the victory of William III at the Battle of the Boyne. But the Protestant fraternal organization once had a stranglehold on power in Toronto, and its subjugation of Irish Catholics gave the parade on every “Glorious Twelfth” an ominous undercurrent of potential violence. While Toronto’s municipal affairs were never as corrupt as elsewhere, the Orange Order operated as a de facto political machine throughout the nineteenth century. Between 1845 and 1900, all but three of Toronto’s twenty-three mayors and countless city councillors were members of an Orange Lodge. Protestant principles and moral order, as espoused by the Order, were synonymous with good governance and permeated the city’s culture. Moreover, the city council’s control over patronage ensured that fellow lodge members filled the civic administration, municipal utilities, and even, for a time, the police and fire departments. So wide was the Order’s influence at city hall, that on the occasion of the “Glorious Twelfth” in 1893, the Evening Telegram wrote in jest:

Like the temple of old Egypt
Empty as a noxious mine
Stood the City Hall deserted
For “the byes” were all in line.

Drawing of Orangemen by C.W. Jefferys.
The first Grand Lodge was established in Toronto in 1830, and it expanded steadily so that (according to historian Greg Kealey) there were over 20 lodges in 1860, 31 in 1880, and 56 by 1895. Nevertheless, Kealey concludes that “the political and social importance of the order always transcended its official membership.” Even at the Order’s height in 1892 there were only about 2,500 or 4,000 paid members. In addition, there were scores of socially prominent citizens who were granted honorary membership but did not actually participate in official lodge business. Surprisingly, given the prestige of the institution in city life, 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 the benefits of mutual aid, security, and health supports made it easier to survive the difficulties of 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.
The deep Protestant flavour to city life made “The Belfast of Canada,” as Toronto was nicknamed, anything but hospitable to the great influx of Irish Catholic immigrants who arrived in the wake of the Great Famine. Despite their population growing from about 2,000 in the 1840s to 12,135 (or over 27% of the total population) in the 1860s, Irish Catholics could find only unskilled factory work that offered little opportunity to escape the appalling conditions of the slum neighbourhoods of Corktown and Cabbagetown. As local historian Bruce Bell described it: “To be Irish and Catholic at the height of Victorian Toronto meant menial work with no promise of advancement.”
Photo of Parade Marshall on horseback in 1932. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1057, Item 2072.
In addition to this economic discrimination and political domination, Orangemen also used their Twelfth of July parades to intentionally challenge Irish Catholic, or Green, territory. In addition to St. Patrick’s Day and Guy Fawkes Night, Orangemen marching en masse through Green neighbourhoods each July was one of the most common causes for riots in nineteenth century Toronto. In the twenty-five years between 1867 and 1892, Orangemen and Irish Catholics clashed twenty-two times. For the most part, the ritualized violence was limited to fisticuffs, arrests, and broken windows. On two occasions, however, brawling escalated to full-scale sectarian violence.
In the Jubilee Riots of September 26, 1875, armed Orangemen took exception to a Catholic procession. A raucous crowd of 6,000-8,000 rocked the entire city core for a number of hours. Deployed to defend the Catholic right to parade, the Toronto Police were commended for keeping cool heads in the face of the violence. One history of the department recalled:

Revolver shots were fired by the mob with startling frequency, while stones and other missiles fell among the Police and processionists like hail. Many were seriously injured; and although fully armed not a single man so far forgot himself as to return the fire, but throughout all behaved with remarkable coolness and with a degree of forbearance that was certainly very creditable.

Three years later, on St. Patrick’s Day, another serious incident followed an incendiary speech by O’Donovan Rossa, a leading Fenian. A crowd of thousands gathered outside the hall—local historian Bruce Bell somewhat incredulously claims 30,000 took part in the riot—screaming for Rossa’s blood. It’s said that in order to escape, Rossa had to dress as a woman and flee down a back staircase while mob violence exploded outside. Once again, the police were called out to quell the Orangemen, but accounts differ as to the diligence with which they protected the Irish Catholics from being attacked.
The very fact that the the predominantly Protestant police force was deployed to restore order on both occasions demonstrates an interesting quirk of Orange power in the city. Toronto politicians, as Kealey puts it, “built or demolished their careers in proportion to lodge support.” They needed Orange support at election time, but were always caught between the Orangeman’s love of tradition and ritual—and the potential for subsequent violence—and the burgeoning city’s need for social order. Under increasing political pressure, religious riots ended by the late 1880s, and Twelfth of July parades became less focused on antagonistic anti-Catholic behaviour and remained popular well into the twentieth century.
Photo of Mayor Thomas Foster in an Twelfth of July Parade in 1927. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub-Series 41, Item 172.
Over the city’s history, the decline of lodge influence was declared prematurely numerous times. In 1893, newspapers heralded Mayor Robert John Fleming for breaking the “secret society influence at City Hall.” In 1928, Mayor Samuel McBride’s landslide victory was credited to his campaign literature, which stressed that he was “not dominated by any set or clique.” The Orange Order, however, remained an important force in partisan politics well into the twentieth century. The old-boy networks of provided by lodge member offered candidates a basis of electoral support for launching a campaign. But elections were fought on issues of taxation and public ownership of utilities, not on a polarization of Protestant and Catholic sentiment. Politicians had to reach far beyond the dwindling number of Orangemen for voter support. Once elected to city council, Orangemen did not vote as a single bloc, but as individual office-holders representing diverse interests. Policy continued to reflect an Orange influence because civic ambitions remained closely aligned to the Order’s tenets.
In the end, it was the growing cosmopolitanism and changing demographics of the booming city that finally put an end to Orange political influence. In the 1950s, Mayor Leslie Howard Saunders, a leading Orangeman, set off a firestorm of sectarian controversy when his letter on official city stationery celebrating the Twelfth of July was criticized by the press and fellow Orangemen alike as being intolerant of religious minorities. Saunders’s fervent anti-Catholic rhetoric—as well as some nefarious uses of public funds—pushed voters towards Nathan Phillips. Of Jewish descent, Phillips became the first non-Protestant, non-Orangeman mayor of the twentieth century. When he was branded as “the mayor of all the people,” it was a direct repudiation of a hundred and fifty years of Orange Lodge influence in municipal politics.


  • mapleavenue

    My great-grandfather was an Irish Catholic firefighter in Toronto and was only allowed to work at night. I think this was in the 1920s or 1930s, but am not entirely sure. My grandparents continue to keep his helmet besides their crucifix at the cottage as a reminder of this time.
    Oddly enough, as an historian I appriciate the Glorious Revolution and the 1689 Bill of Rights and their lasting effect on our democracy. Strange…

  • TokyoTuds

    Hands down the best feature on Toronoist … keep it up.

  • David Toronto

    I once saw the prade in 1958 proceeding down Queen’s Park Crescent and then onwards down University Avenue. It was a significant event and
    thousands came to watch.
    My apartment overlooks Yonge Street and when the parade–at least what’s left of it–comes down the street, onlookers wonder who these strange people are. It’s actually a pitiful sight–those few usually older people processing down Yonge and no real spectators, only puzzled onlookers.
    Times change and the people change with them.

  • OrangeOntario

    I am an Orangemen, and i will admit that the parades are not as they used to be, but neither is Canada. Many new Canadians dont even use english or french as their primary language. However I disagree with you that the Orange Order is a greying order. As an Orangemen (23 years young) there has been greater interest in our institution.
    The Orange Parades have marched into the 21th century staying true to our ideals. Like many great Orangemen like John A MacDonald or John Diefenbaker we continue to celebrate the Glorious Revolution. The times and people may change but the message does not, and should not. Democracy was the cornerstone of Orangeism, and its is these “few” who are willing to preserve this noble history. We invite all to come out on the 12th of July, so we do not forget the democracy that our forefathers faught and died for.
    Join hundreds to celebrate the 188th annual Orange Parade at 11 AM at the armouries (Queen/Jarvis)…NORTH AMERICAS OLDEST PARADE!

  • Svend

    Glad it’s an institution of the past.
    I can’t imagine the circumstances of your birth giving you a leg up in life or being denied basic freedoms we take for granted.

  • chardy

    “Democracy was the cornerstone of Orangeism, and its is these “few” who are willing to preserve this noble history.”
    Oh really? The Orange Order was founded in the 1790s as a sectarian reaction against the democratic politics of the United Irishmen. Proud tradition, really.

  • bbpsi

    “OrangeOntario” is trolling (what with the subtle anti-immigration stuff, and all)..
    Anyhow, thanks for the article. As usual Historicist is informative, and the photographs in this article are gorgeous.

  • canuck in uk

    As a Canadian in the west of Scotland, I long for the days when I lived back in Canada and had never heard of orange walks or orange men.
    Personally, I dislike them and find it vulgar that they march in a religiously divided city like Glasgow. How strange to march commemorating something that happened hundreds of years ago. Even stranger (and hypocritical) to march celebrating the Protestant religion – emphasising the exclusion of Catholics, of course.
    Again, as a Canadian, I liken orange walks to the Canadian equivalent as if a bunch of old white dudes in Canada, marched on a Native reserve, celebrating the slaughter of natives by their ancestors.

  • OrangeOntario

    It was formed in the late 18th century to PROTECT the protestant minority from irish rebels who burned these men’s crops in an act of intimidation. The Orange Order believed in a religion that allowed CHOICE, unlike the united irishmen who blindly followed a pope. The Vatican controlled the people and subjegated them through indulgences.
    It is sad that you see the Orange walks as hate filled, it only proves you have not attended any recently. We have many charities, and celebrate our history like anybody else. We celebrate democracy from James a monarch who was authoritarian, and anti-protestant.
    I wish to reiterate that the issues of overseas are not here or today. Our organization wisheds to celebrate loyalist culture which is the culture of canada. What makes Canada unique is that unlike the republicans southg of the border we stayed loyal to the British monarch. This is the history of this great country.
    PS as for “Orange Ontario” that was a name given to ontario in this era…I dont see how this is “anti-immigrant?

  • chardy

    The United Irishmen were, for the most part, led by Presbyterians and other Protestants.

  • OrangeOntario

    And the pope supported king billy. To brand the orange order as a hate filled sectarian organization is narrow minded. Orangemen do lots for charity, and only 1% of all parades in ulster have incidents. This for the most part is caused by onlookers, and not members. To say that sectarianism isnt found is also narrow minded. However in all organizations there will be elements that are less then stellar. The anti-protestant ne tamare laws that ireland instituted to ethnically cleanse the protestanst in the republic was far more sectarian then people marching to celebrate culture.

  • OrangeOntario

    If you were to read the history of the Orange Order it was at first a purely anglican organization, and other protestants were allowed in later as unity amongst the people grew. Change has happened and is happening, so the Orange Order of the past cannot be written off with the same pen with the orange order of another era where these attitudes were commonplace amongst ALL organizations.

  • canuck in uk

    OrangeOntario – The Orange order was formed out of Peep O’ Day boys who would attack Catholic homes in Ireland. Peep O’ Day boys were founded after the Catholic emancipation/ relief, when Protestant Irish men feared competition now that Catholics were no longer suppressed.
    So, I don’t care what way you want to twist it, the orange order grew out of violence, oppression of Catholics and bigotry. The fundamental fault of the Orange order is that it IS anti-Catholic.
    I’m proud, as a Canadian, that Canada has socially matured and as such, the orange order has become irrelevant. I only hope the same thing happens in Scotland.
    Oh, and as someone who unfortunately has to witness these marches (they march past my apartment), I will CONFIRM that they are hate-filled. Just TRY to even cross the road and a riot will break out…
    p.s. F*ck the Queen!

  • drgmmd

    It is somewhat disturbing to read the negative comments from the ill informed. At one point in Canada there was a very strong Orange influence probably because of the majority of Canadians being protestant. According to the many reports that I have read, even though the Order has been Pro-protestant it has never unwelcomed coming to the aid of those who were not. You will never hear of the orphanages that were run by the Orange Order as the horrific stories of abuse of those run by the Catholic Church.
    The Order stand strong for democracy and free speach. This is what the Dutch Prince of Orange fought for and we continue to maintain. Can you imagine a society that did not have these freedoms. These idoits that condem the Orange would be silenced!!!!

  • ked

    to Canuck in UK
    as a Scot living in Canada I can say that my experience is that the sectarian violence you see is mainly, unfortunately a west coast thing, blighting what is otherwise possibly one of the best places in the UK. In Edinburgh the orange march is pretty much ignored and I’m not even sure if there are any further east – living in Aberdeen for 20 years I never saw one. I also find it odd that they still happen here as from my experience at least, they take place to declare difference and opposition not unity or charity and don’t seem in keeping with the inclusive nature of the city. Maybe things have changed though, hopefully they have.

  • rek

    Are Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, blacks or Asians allowed to join the Orange Order these days? I mean, if it’s all about democratic tradition and not religion (or race), it shouldn’t be a problem right?

  • drgmmd

    In answer to your question.You can only join the Orange Order if you are a Christian and a member of a Reformed Christian faith based church. The Knights of Columbus allow only Catholics in. The Orange Order does not care what colour your skin is. The lodges in some areas areas are predominately white, in Africa they are mainly Black. There is a lodge in Ontario that is only Italian and there is one that is only Native Canadian (Mohawk).

  • OrangeOntario

    The Knights of Coilumbus is only Roman Catholic, yet no one complains about them. The Orange Lodge in fact has more members in africa then it has in canada. We have a lodge in argentina with latin members. We are about democratic tradion, there is a religious tradition to the order celebrating our freedom from autocratic papal rule. Just because an organization is democratic does not mean it must admit members who are contrary to the pillars of its foundation.
    Reality is that the Vatican is not a democratic institution, the pope is not voted in by the people. The protestant churches do, such as the archbishop of the church of england. If the pope did not pretend to be a demi god between man and God, and was elected by the people for the people then maybe the rules could change. This is not very likely and therefore will never happen.
    Note that the Orange Order was originally a Anglican organization. Anglican was the established church with the Queen as its constitutional leader. Presbyterians and methodists were later admited, followed by evangelical faiths.
    The Orange Order has changed variously over time, but has remained true to the principals of man being the only mediator between himself and God. It is this belief that differenciates ourselves from Roman Catholicism which is one mans rule over many.

  • cassie1

    I am an Orangeman who lived in glasgow before I came to this Country, Which I love, Itransferred
    to the Orange Here. To all our critics I can only say that the ORANGE ORDER has evolved from what it was in has the roman church. The hate and malicious lies spouted against us shows where the real Bigots come from. The Orange Order here might be at a low ebb just now. But believe me we are not DEAD. Our members come from all ethnic Backgrounds, And Countries.We have lodges in South america holland. italy , Africa, France and so on and on. I have not answered our criticx? directly for Frankly its a waste of time. But to them I say we are here tostay. No Surrender, God Save The Queen
    And God Bless Canada.

  • http://null canuck in uk

    Cassie1 – bitch, please. The Orange Order is trash.

  • http://undefined bigjohn

    Canuck in Uk. You are scum. Instead of slagging off the Orange Institution, explain why your Popes have, for many years, ignored the rape and abuse of tens of thousands of children by sick priests and nuns. Look at the apoligists of Rome. They are a disgrace.

  • http://undefined canuck in uk

    Dear Bigjohn – I’m not scum nor am I Catholic. Thanks for trying though.

  • http://undefined drgmmd

    Well July 10th is the 190th annual Toronto Orange Parade. The longest annual parade in North America. This will be the time, when the left-media come out and report non-factual things of Irish Orange and the secular violence..never how peaceful it is in Canada. The parade will be celebrating the freedoms of the Glorious 12th, faith, pro-family, pro-community, pro-Canada and pro-Crown. But little will be told.

  • Kevin Baron

    Well written, and on an important topic.