Monday, 11 July 2016




With the Toronto Pride Parade so recently in our minds, it’s fascinating to recall that the most prominent parade in the city’s history was very different, and not only because it celebrated only one part of the spectrum.

For over 150 years, until it was eclipsed in the 1970s, the annual Orange Parade saw the grandees and workers of Toronto march together in celebration of the enduring victory of Protestantism in Britain over the dreaded scourge of Catholicism.

Drawing of Orangemen by C. W. Jeffreys (c. 1950). Source.
The Orange Parade, held traditionally on “the Glorious Twelfth” of July, commemorated the victory of William of Orange over his rival James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, securing Protestant-English rule over Ireland. 

Benjamin West's "William III at the Battle of the Boyne" (1778). Source.
A century later, Protestant gentleman in Ireland, fearful of losing their privileged position, joined together to found the Grand Orange Lodge in 1795 for mutual support and advancement. 

Parade float of a Juvenile Orange Lodge 
emphasizing religion and the British Empire. Source.
Northern Irish immigrants carried the Orange banner with them to British North America, where it was embraced as a signal of citizens’ staunchly pro-British and Protestant sentiments. Toronto’s first Orange lodge was established in 1830. By 1860, when Irish Catholics had come to constitute a quarter of the city’s total population, there were 20 lodges in the city. That number continued to rise until the peak of the Order’s popularity in the 1930s when no less than 96 lodges dotted the map of Toronto.
Banner of a Toronto lodge depicting William of Orange
crossing the Boyne River. Source.
In Toronto, and throughout Ontario, the Twelfth was a day of civic celebration. At its height, nine thousand Orangemen paraded as twenty-five thousand citizens watched, taking two hours to pass. Everyday life in the city was brought to a standstill, a demonstration of the Order’s control over the city.The day began with prayers and Bible reading at each local lodge. After parading through their neighbourhoods, proud Orangemen would then gather together at City Hall or Queen’s Park dressed in their insignia and bright orange sashes.

They marched with flags, banners depicting military and biblical scenes, and bands playing songs brought from Ireland generations before, and often led by an Orangeman dressed as William of Orange mounted on a milk white horse (a traditional reference to his salvific status for British Protestantism).

See a resemblance?
Source: Annual Toronto Orange Parade's Facebook page.
The parade route ended at the Exhibition grounds where festivities would continue until the day concluded with hall dinners and street parties.

Women's races as part of Orange celebrations on Exhibition grounds (1930).
Source: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 21103. 
The parade was a public manifestation of a group that held sway over municipal politics. No other voluntary association in Toronto – not even the Masons – had a public profile nearly as great as the Orange Order.

Membership was an unspoken prerequisite for a public career – for policemen, judges, and city councillors – and to receive municipal contracts. Until the mid-twentieth century election of Nathan Philips, almost every mayor of Toronto was a member of the Order, and participated prominently in the Twelfth Parade.

Orange celebrations outside Old City Hall with Mayor Stewart (1931).
Source: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41, Item 267.
Increasing multiculturalism and changing political climate brought an abrupt end to Orange dominance in the postwar era. As Pride, Caribana, Khalsa Day, and the Santa Claus parades rose in popularity, participation in the Twelfth Parade has dwindled to mere hundreds. However, though no longer a fixture of summer festivities, the Orange Order marches on – making the procession, at 196 years old, the longest consecutively held parade in North American history.

Toronto's modern-era Orange parade (2012). Source: Michael Peake. 

Reference material:
Smyth, William J. (2015). Toronto, the Belfast of Canada: The Orange Order and the Shaping of Municipal Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

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