The Orange Order in Canada

Published in 18th-19th Century Social Perspectives, 18th–19th - Century History, 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Book Reviews, Issue 3 (May/Jun 2009), Reviews, Volume 17

The Orange Order in Canada
David A. Wilson (ed.)
(Four Courts Press, €55)
ISBN 9781846820779

This collection is derived from the first conference on the Orange Order in Canada, held at St Michael’s College, Toronto, in 2005. While the majority of the articles trace the activities and development of the order in Canada from the nineteenth to the early 21st century, some also place it within an international context. What emerges is a look at the order’s past, present and future. The broader purpose of the collection, however, is to transcend existing stereotypes by presenting a more nuanced picture of what was, in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Canada, an influential social and political organisation. The common thread tying the articles together is the theme of identity and how the order defined itself in an ever-changing imperial and Canadian context.
Several of the articles grapple with political and social aspects of the order in the nineteenth century. Donald MacRaild discusses the associational aspect of the organisation, offering an explanation for the widespread appeal of Orangeism throughout the British Empire. He argues that the key to its success was twofold: it acted as a fraternal organisation, being both a social club and a mutual aid society, and it also had an ideological component that reinforced a specifically British Protestant male identity. Ian Radforth focuses on the often-thorny relationship between the Orange Order and the Crown. He uses the Prince of Wales’s visit to Canada West in 1860 to illustrate how in Canada, as in Ireland, the order’s expressions of loyalty did not always sit well with British authorities. David Wilson places Orangeism in the context of pre-confederation Canadian politics, specifically examining how Thomas D’Arcy Magee came to work with moderate members of the order towards a common vision of a united Canada. It is an interesting look at Magee’s political evolution, from his republican beginnings to his ideological convergence with moderate Orangeism on the subjects of anti-Fenianism and Canadian confederation.
Two of the articles examine the development of the order and the direction it was taking in Toronto at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Brian Clarke provides a glimpse into the generational divide within the Orange Order in the latter part of the nineteenth century. He discusses the tension in the movement between a younger generation, engaged in wasteful pastimes and rioting, and their elders who rejected such actions, valuing instead respectability, sobriety and self-improvement. William Jenkins shows that the order had become a respectable organisation in Toronto in the early twentieth century, a time when it was one of the city’s most important social institutions. Orangemen were influential in municipal politics, and their identity had become a part of the British Protestant imperial consciousness.
Eric Kaufmann and John FitzGerald further substantiate the importance of the order in early twentieth-century Canada. Through a comparative analysis of membership in Ontario, Newfoundland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, Kaufmann shows that during that time the order was at its peak in Canada, with some 60% of the world’s Orangemen living there and in Newfoundland. John FitzGerald discusses the political ramifications of such a large number of Orangemen in twentieth-century Newfoundland, arguing that the order had a critical role to play in the outcome of the 1948 referendum in which Newfoundlanders voted to join Canada. The order was the most important fraternal organisation in rural Newfoundland, and the leader of the pro-confederation campaign, Joey Smallwood, appealed to the order’s sense of Britishness, Protestantism and anti-republicanism to win support for ‘British Union’ with Canada.
Despite its prominence in the early part of the twentieth century, Houston and Smyth show that Orangeism has dwindled almost into obscurity in 21st-century Canada. The reason for this decline, they argue, has less to do with the order itself than with changes within Canadian society. A multicultural Canada simply cannot relate to an organisation built upon specifically eighteenth-century Irish Protestant values. The final article by Mark McGowan suggests avenues for further research, encouraging scholars to examine the order in the twentieth century. More work needs to be done on urban lodges, ethnicity, the role of women and families, and the social role of the order, specifically in terms of the services provided to its members.
This collection is a valuable contribution to the history of the Orange Order in Canada, but its broader themes of identity and ethnicity will be stimulating reading for those studying these issues in other parts of the Irish diaspora. As such, this book will be of interest not only to scholars of Canadian history but to those engaged in ethnic, Irish and diaspora studies as well. HI

Carolyn Lambert is a PhD candidate in history at Memorial University, Newfoundland.

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