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1984: Orangemen’s Day losing glory

The Story


It's called "the Glorious 12th," but it isn't so glorious anymore - at least not in Canada. July 12 is Orangemen's Day, commemorating Protestant King William of Orange's 1690 victory over Catholic forces in the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. Orange parades are still a big deal in Ireland, and they used to be very significant here too. But as the University of Toronto's Cecil Houston tells As it Happens, Orangemen's Day in Canada isn't what it used to be.

Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: July 12, 1984
Guest: Cecil Houston
Host: Allen Garr
Duration: 6:02
Photo: National Archives of Canada PA-178829

Did You know?


• The Battle of the Boyne occurred in July 1690 on Ireland's east coast. The army of King William III of Orange, the Protestant king of England, defeated the army of his Catholic father-in-law, the deposed King James II. The battle was considered a turning point in the war for the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. For Protestants, the victory became a symbol of Protestantism triumphing over Catholicism.

• The Orange Order, a Protestant fraternal society dedicated to celebrating Protestant culture, was first formed in Ireland in 1795 and named in honour of William of Orange's victory.

• The Orange Order was active in Canada by the early 1800s. But it wasn't until 1830 that the Grand Lodge of British North America - a central organizing body for Orangeism in Canada - was officially founded by Irish immigrant Ogle R. Gowan.

• According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Orange Lodge quickly "adopted a Masonic-type ritual and organization, providing for mutual aid and organizing social events." Orangeism soon became an influential force in Canadian politics and society, particularly in the predominately Protestant Upper Canada (now Ontario).

• Many high-powered business and political deals were conducted at Orange lodges in English Canada throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

• A 1993 History Today article estimates that by the end of the 19th century, about one-third of all English-speaking adult Canadian Protestant men belonged to the Orange Order.

• Three Canadian prime ministers were Orangemen: Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Mackenzie Bowell and John Diefenbaker.

• In its heyday, the Orange Order in Canada espoused anti-Catholic views. However, Cecil J. Houston and William J. Smyth point out in their 1980 book The Sash Canada Wore that this attitude wasn't much different from mainstream Protestant Canadian society at the time. "The Orangemen voiced their enmity and distrust of Catholics perhaps more loudly than other elements of Protestant Canadian society, but their views differed only in degree, not in kind, from the norm of anti-Catholicism."

• The biggest 12th parade in Canada was traditionally held in Toronto. The highlight would be when "King Billy" (William of Orange) rode in on his white steed. As recently as the 1950s, thousands marched in the Toronto parade while "tens of thousands watched," according to a 1990 Globe and Mail article.

• By the mid-1990s, the number of participants had dwindled down to the hundreds.

• It wasn't uncommon for violence to break out at Toronto Orangemen's Day parades between Catholics and Protestants. "Orange and green (Irish Catholic) fisticuffs are folklore: in the middle of the past century, the animosities caused the occasional death," according to a 1990 Globe article.

• The violence at Canadian parades, however, paled in comparison to the violence that still often breaks out in Ireland on the 12th. According to a 2006 Economist article, Ireland's Orange Order "is associated, in the minds of most Britons, with riots that break out in July, when Orangemen celebrating the military triumph of the Protestant King William III try to march through Catholic neighbourhoods and are blocked when they do so."

• Today, the Orange Order still exists in parts of Canada and small parades do occur on the 12th. Orange membership and influence continue to diminish as Canada has become increasingly multicultural.

• The one province where Orangemen's Day is still significant is Newfoundland, where it is a provincial holiday. The authors of The Sash Canada Wore said Orangeism developed such strength there initially because of the province's geographic isolation: "Given the lack of social alternatives," they wrote, men were attracted to the order for its "fraternalism and conviviality." And in a 1990 Globe and Mail article, Cecil Houston further explained that in Newfoundland, family tradition remains extremely important and "sons follow fathers into the lodge."


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