Our Historical Beginnings
One would need to review the complete history of the Protestant Reformation and the history of Britain before they could appreciateÂ why the Loyal Orange Association came into being.
A brief sketch would reveal that when James II ascended to the English Throne in 1688, he made a concerted effort to reestablish Roman Catholicism as supreme in Church and State. After he had sent the Archbishop of Canterbury and six bishops to the Tower for failing to comply with his order to read a “Declaration of Indulgences” in their churches, the Bishops were charged with “false, malicious and seditious libel”; but, in the public image they were popular martyrs. Tried on June 29th, 1688, the Seven Bishops were acquitted, much to the rejoicing of their supporters.
History records that an English Admiral, disguised as a sailor, left London with a message signed by a coalition of English political parties, inviting William, Prince of Orange, to come to England and defend the cause of Protestantism and Liberty. As a result, William left Holland on October 16th in 1688 in defence of the Protestant Religion. At the ship’s masthead were the Arms of Nassau, quartered with those of England. The words “I will Maintain” remain to this day the motto of Holland and to these were added the words: “The Protestant Religion and the Liberty of England.” On Nov. 5th, 1688, William landed at Torbay, Devonshire, England – the 83rd Anniversary of the infamous Gunpowder Plot.
Orange Societies, in one form or another, have been in existence in various parts of the world since 1688, when Prince William of Orange came to England, at the request of a coalition of parties, to defend “the liberties of Englishmen and the Protestant Religion”. These Societies were organized so that people of like mind might join together to support and maintain those principles, and the democratic concepts that were established by the Act of Settlement. The Terms of that Act placed William and Mary on the Throne of England, and were enhanced by William’s wise and intelligent use of the Parliament that placed them there. Thus, the Constitutional Monarchy was born, securing the principle of freedom of worship, and spelling out all the basic principles of a Constitutional Government that was to be the model for all Western democracies to follow.
William and his army defeated James II at the Boyne River in Ireland when James attempted to regain the throne of England with an army he had raised in Spain and France. The “Battle of the Boyne”, as it is called, is widely recognized for securing the widest measures of civil and religious liberty for all inheritors of this first great step toward the ‘democratization’ of the western world.
The progress of William and his army from his landing in England at Torbay until his arrival in London, is an interesting story in itself and a very important event in the history of the world’s continuing journey to “democracy”. Suffice to say that historians dubbed it the “Glorious Revolution” because the throne of England was taken without a drop of blood being shed.
The eventual showdown for civil and religious freedom of expression came on July 12, 1690 (July 1st – old calendar) when William and his army defeated King James II at the Boyne River in Ireland.
The First Orange Lodge
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 taking place on July 12th, 1796, at Portadown. When religious terror broke out afresh that same year, it is said that some 20,000 Orangemen were called to assist the civil authorities, and were subsequently armed to establish peace and order.
The Orange movement rapidly spread all over Ireland and subsequently later into other jurisdictions around the world such as England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Togo and Ghana, West Africa, the U.S.A. and Canada. The seeds of active Protestantism had, at one time, sprouted Orange Lodges in Cuba, British Honduras, Bermuda, Hong Kong and South Africa.
The Orange Order and the Canadian Scene
Orangeism, born as it was in great tribulation, encountered many difficulties in its formative years. There are no available records that can confirm where or by whom the first Orange Lodge in Canada was instituted. One must keep in mind the history of Orangeism and the settlement of Canada which provided a far different background to that prevailing in the old land during the its early days. Many new settlers were glad to be away from the extremities of persecution and in some cases, poverty of the homeland while others were concerned that the oppression of liberty – whether civil or religious, should not be allowed to raise its head in the Land of the Maple Leaf. Most historians agree that Orangemen were in Canada previous to 1812 and by 1822 the 12th Parade in Toronto had become the most popular event of the day.
Ogle Robert Gowan, the Order’s first Canadian Grand Master is recognized as the founder of Canadian Orangeism. As a recent new-comer to Canada, the territory the Grand Lodge was intended oversee, he brought to his adopted land a conviction that a Branch of Orangeism should be nurtured and cultivated in Canada as a recognized organization. Its birthplace was Brockville, Ontario, a centre of Protestant and Loyalist settlers dedicated to maintaining their religious convictions and loyalty to British Institutions symbolized by their flag – the Union Jack.
Prior to that year, lodges of the Orange Order had operated as independent units, planted in Upper and Lower Canada, principally by pioneers who brought with them, from the British Isles, “Certificates of Membership,” some by settlers retired from military service where Orange Lodges had existed within units such as the Fourth Regiment of Foot – known generally as King William’s Regiment. As early as 1808 there is evidence that an Orange Lodge existed in Ontario, and a transfer certificate issued by L.O.L. 109, County Armagh in Ireland, had found its way to the loyal province. In New Brunswick there is a record of a lodge meeting in 1783 under a Charter issued in 1694 bearing the name of Colonial Patent No. 6, issued from the Guild Hall, London, giving authenticity to information that a number of Societies or Clubs under the name of “Orange” existed since the arrival of William, Prince of Orange, in England in 1688.
Canadian Orangemen were first to the colours in time of war in their allegiance to the Crown and Canada as an integral part of British identity. Orangemen participated in the War of 1812-1814; the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837-38; the Fenian Raids of 1866; the Riel Rebellions of 1870 and 1885; the South African (Boer War); and the Two World Wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45. During the Rebellion of 1837 Gowan served as Commanding Officer of the Queen’s Royal Borderers and was wounded at the Battle of the Windmill near Prescott, Ontario. Orange Halls throughout rural Ontario and elsewhere were used as common recruiting depots during World Wars I and II and history records that many thousands of its youngest members paid the Supreme Sacrifice with some being recognized as recipients of the Victoria Cross.