By Raymond Jess, Concordia University
Chapter 1 of "The Protestant Irish of Montreal and the birth of Canadian National Identity".
Immigrant Societies, the Orange Order
By 1879 the Orange County Master for Hochelaga David Grant believed that there were about 500 active members of the Orange Order in Montreal. But that if he accounted for ‘slow members’, i.e. those members who were not actively engaged in the Order, then the number in Montreal would be closer to 3,000.94 Reporting on a meeting of the Boyne Loyal Orange Lodge in Montreal in 1888, a local Orangemen noted that most of the membership was composed of young men between the ages of 18 and 25. By 1895, the Grand Orange Lodge of Québec was boasting of 4,470 members across the province. The main Orange Hall in Montreal was at 246 St. James Street. In 1894 no fewer than nine Orange Lodges met there at different times every month, including the Loyal Orange Lodges (L.O.L.) of Derry, Victoria, Boyne, Dominion, Prince of Wales and Duke of York, as well as Mount Royal True Blue Benevolent Lodge, Royal Scarlet Chapter and Hobah Royal Black Preceptory. The Hackett L.O.L. met at Chatham Street Hall while the Diamond L.O.L and the Hardiman Lady True Blue Lodge met at the Sons of England Hall on Craig Street. Finally, the Lorne L.O.L. and the Prentice Boys Association met every month at the Fraternity Hall in Point St. Charles. Although like the IPBS (Irish Protestant Benevolent Society), the Orange Order professed a certain national and religious identity, it certainly did not have any qualms in expressing its political and sectarian outlook.
From the time of Confederation until the First World War British Anglo-Canadianism was a dominant feature of Canadian life. Compared to the novelty of a new nation, the British historical narrative was viewed as an empowering identity with which to apprehend the world. It was also a way to counteract the influence of the United States by affirming Canada’s membership of an imperial entity that had equal prominence on the world stage. Britishness was to be developed and supported through continuing contact between the imperial centre and the colonial periphery. As well as national identity, religious identity played its part in the development of Anglo-Canadianism. Linda Colley has stated that for the majority of Britons, Protestantism helped them to make sense of the past and to understand the present. It also helped them to identify their enemies. Examples of these enemies can be seen in the records of the Annual Reports of the Grand Lodge of Québec where there was at least one expulsion of a member every year for marrying “a papist”. When the Orange Order first arrived in Canada in the middle of the 19th century its aggressive anti-Catholicism was rejected by a political elite which had long made its peace with the Catholic Church through the Québec Act. The Order was seen as a specifically immigrant and ethnic institution. However, in the aftermath of Confederation, the political power of the Orange Order became more prominent, especially in Ontario, as the new Canadian nation sought to expand itself across the west in opposition to the United States. There was a belief that in order to be a successful member of the British Empire, a sense of internal cohesion needed to be achieved. In the development of the west, a process of ‘Ontarianization’ took place, which sought to make the politics and culture of Canada’s central province the politics and culture of Canada as a whole. The Orange Order was a key element in this early desire to unite the country from sea to sea. With its network of lodges from St. John’s to Vancouver Island, there were probably few other institutions which could command allegiance over such a wide geographic area. The Orange Order was adamant in its support for 'One flag, one language, and one school, equal rights for all, special privileges for none.
However there was resistance in some quarters for such an approach. A member of the Orange Order in Montreal, Norman Murray, wrote to the Sentinel in 1893 to complain that Montreal Orangeman should be more interested in challenging the Roman church on its streets than worry about Home Rule 3,000 miles away in Ireland, or separate schools 1,000 miles away in Manitoba. In another letter to the editor in 1894, Murray criticizes the continued use of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in the paper in opposition to the French. From his perspective the idea that a nation should be formed via one race, one language and one religion is an idea more easily embraced by Provincial Liberal leader Honoré Mercier and his French-Canadian cohorts than members of the British Empire. Later in his letter he states “I never heard anyone include everything Protestant under that all absorbing word Anglo-Saxon till I came to Canada.” At the annual Guy Fawkes Orange Order church parade in Point St. Charles in 1899, the Rev. Dr. Ker said in his sermon that civil liberty is not confined to British blood and the British born, saying that no narrow or one-sided interpretation should limit its “grand circumference.”
It is no surprise that the Orange Order gained such a following among new Anglo-Canadians in the middle of the 19th century. The industrial revolution did much to unsettle communal forms of tradition and memory through increasing urbanization, new information technology, and the atomizing effects of wage labour. Such was the case with migrants, who found themselves uprooted from the locations that gave their communal lives meaning and order. Along with this uprooting came a greater desire for impersonal and abstract national identities. In his book Special Sorrows, Matthew Jacobson underlines how new information technology allowed traditional communities to be defined beyond a narrow sense of place. Immigrant journals sought to overcome the migrant’s sense of exile by transcending trans-Atlantic distances and uniting the diaspora community with the history and traditions of the motherland. During the post-Confederation period the anglophone media in Canada played a powerful role in the assertion and creation of identities according to their own values and ideology. The development of print technology in the 19th century was crucial in overtaking oral traditions and becoming the principal outlet for advancing the truth of the external world. The dominant way of understanding the totality of the Canadian landscape was through newspapers. For many British North Americans, the garrison mentality of Protestant Ulster was especially attractive as they sought to define themselves in opposition to American republicanism and French-Canadian Catholicism. The Sentinel and Orange and Protestant Advocate published in Toronto was the most widely read Orange newspaper in 19th century Canada, peppered as it was with news from ‘home’. Home in this case being Ireland, and at other times Britain. The paper also recognized the power of the press as the great distributer of knowledge, “The press was the artillery that successfully broke up medieval Romanism”. For the Sentinel, Britain and Ireland were the centre of an imperial identity whose political and cultural geography was formed and defined in its pages.
While Québec Protestants did look to Ontario for support from aggressive Catholicism, they were not as vocal in seeking to marginalize francophone identity. In her book on the ethnic peripheries of the Soviet Union, Kate Brown describes how myth-making requires a certain amount of distance in order to blur specific details about peripheral identities and amalgamate them into the enemy. Created from afar, the enemy becomes easier to see. This was much the case in 19th century Canada where the Sentinel created its’ enemies from the comfort of its Toronto offices. It was much more difficult to maintain in Montreal where Orangemen came face to face with francophone Catholics on a day to day basis. The Sentinel fought a battle of identity in the popular press claiming that an increased sense of French-Canadian nationalism was being propagated in the francophone press. The newspaper looked to a time when “French-Canadianism” would be unknown. In one of its stronger editorials, exhausted with Québec’s complaints about separate schools in Manitoba, the paper called for a stronger assimilation of French-Canadians, “This country can never again be French, and it is cruel and wicked to fill the minds of the simple habitants with this chimera”.
In Special Sorrows Jacobson quotes the American Polish immigrant journal Zgoda in underlining how a sense of obligation was maintained between the diaspora community and the political objectives of the home country. The journal recounted "the heroic deeds of our ancestors; everywhere the outrages perpetrated by the enemies of our nation were protested; everywhere the white-amaranthine Polish flag appeared; everywhere the cry sounded, 'Poland has not yet perished!” In the pages of the Sentinel similar sentiments were expressed around the two most important dates in the Orange calendar; the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne on the 12th July, and Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th. Guy Fawkes Night was especially celebrated in Point St. Charles where the Mount Royal Lodge ‘Prentice Boys came out for the annual church parade which would eventually see hundreds of people marching up Wellington Street. At one Guy Fawkes Day concert in Point St. Charles in 1898, the local Orange lodge hired the largest hall in the west end of the city, the Unity Hall. However the hall was too small to accommodate the 600 people who arrived and in the end many had to be turned away. At other times of the year Montreal’s Orangemen put on smaller celebrations for such historical events as the closing of the gates of Derry.
Thus, as the Orange Order sought to re-centre themselves as part of an imperial identity, Québec became increasingly to be seen not as part of the founding centre of Canada but as a recalcitrant periphery. Peripheries are not only geographic, they are also figurative. Their occupants do not just stand on the fringes of settlement; they also exist on the border of morality, taste and culture. In moments of crisis and heightened tension, this ‘backwardness’ can become sabotage. During the Boer War, Orangemen in Montreal spoke of the treachery of French-Canadian apathy surrounding the war, and in some cases of outright sympathy with the enemy. If French-Canadians spoke in favour of the Boers then what would they do if Britain went to war with France? Irish and French-Canadian Catholics were not only seen as culturally backward, but within the narrative of Anglo-Saxon Protestant imperialism they were also seen as politically dangerous and subversive. The Order in Montreal compared itself to “the position of Derry when it was besieged on all sides with enemies, and our greatest enemy is the Irish Roman Catholic hierarchy”.
But others saw this threat as too large for it to be usurped by Anglo-Canadian Protestantism alone. The British historian Goldwin Smith claimed that French-Canadian and Irish Catholic disloyalty was a good reason for Canada to join with the United States in the creation of a larger Anglo-Saxon Protestant identity. In a reply to Smith’s essay “The Political Destiny of Canada”, Francis Hincks reminded him that Catholics did not vote as a religious block, and due to the fact that they were so numerous in Canada one could find them across the political spectrum, both liberal and conservative. Hincks, who throughout his long career did much to develop the basis for Canada’s constitutionalism, complained that there was no need for the Orange Order in Canada as Canada’s Roman Catholics were just as loyal to their new country as Protestants were. He brought this to the fore in one of the Orange trials that occurred in the wake of Hackett’s death, lauding Daniel O’Connell for his liberal views and using him as a progressive example of Catholic leadership. Hincks would later state “I am not of the opinion that the Catholic faith prevents a man from being a good subject to a Protestant Sovereign and a true friend to civil and religious liberty” In the aftermath of the Hackett killing, Hincks also reminded Orangemen that the Catholic clergy were a powerful influence in helping to put down the Rebellions of 1837-38.
Something of the frustration engendered by peripheral identities can be seen in an attack by the editor of The Canadian Spectator on Francis Hincks due to his criticism of the Orange Order. The editor stated that it was due to Catholics in Parliament seeking the interests of the Church rather than the interests of the State that “the miserable policy had to be adopted of having Provinces and Provincial Parliaments.” In 1877, a poem by an Orange Order member under the pseudonym ‘Ulster True Blue’ highlighted the union of an Orange Canada east and west of Montreal with Ontario as its centre:
Some thirty shots at Hackett aimed,
While, like a soldier true,
He bravely faced his savage foes
Ere they could him subdue
At length a bullet brought him down
For it had pierced his brain
And thrice poor Hackett’s corpse
Was reckoned with the slain
Fast spread the news both East and West
As lightening quick doth fly,
And brave Ontario raised her voice
With vengeance in her eye
And thousands of her gallant men
With arms were soon prepared
To aid the men of Montreal
Nor time nor money spared.
By conquering the West, the Orange Order believed that Anglo-Canada had a right to define the national community. But different place-centered identities would remain a constant guard against any attempts to centralize and standardize identity across the whole country. As the editor of the Canadian Spectator pointed out, the creation of Provincial Parliaments meant that smaller political and cultural centres would create their own peripheries. The Orange Order’s constant referral to Montreal as ‘this Catholic City’ or ‘the Rome of America’ was meant to underscore the city’s difference from Anglo-Saxon Protestant civilization, but it also had the adverse effect of placing its own lodges on the margins of Canada’s commercial metropolis. A similar process of marginalizing through naming was employed by the Order’s adversaries. In a letter to the editor of the Gazette, Francis Hincks was indignant that Orangemen from Toronto had invited a ‘foreigner’ from Buffalo in the United States to bring American Orangemen to Montreal for the 12th of July parade planned for 1878. Much like J.C. Fleming’s marginalization of the black and Native members of the Orange Order, Hincks’ use of the term ‘foreigner’ for an American Orangeman seeks to mark Orange culture as alien or treacherous. But the Montreal Order sought to impose their own narrative on the city no matter how marginal the space they had to occupy. As well as referring to their area of Point St. Charles as “Little Derry”, the naming of a Montreal Orange lodge as the ‘Hackett No Surrender Lodge of Orange Young Britons’ indicates the Order’s strong desire to anchor their history and identity in the social spaces of the city.
At other times Protestants in Point St. Charles came out as a community to highlight perceived injustices. At one particular rally, they publicized how even though they made up one third of the population of St. Anne’s ward, all three of the ward’s municipal representatives were Catholic. Writing in the Sentinel the anonymous Point St. Charles Orangeman ‘Black Northern’ noted that Point St. Charles was the only part of Montreal where Orangemen had a solid numerical strength, but as they were part of the same St. Anne’s ward that includes Griffintown, their votes were effectively cancelled out. In the area of Montreal where Orangemen were strongest, they were represented in the city Council by what ‘Black Northern’ described as “three rabid Irish Papists – Messrs. Donovan, Kennedy and McShane.”
The True Witness and Catholic Chronicle was the anglophone Catholic voice of Montreal, frequently critical of Orange assemblies in the city. In the aftermath of the Hackett killing, outdoor Protestant gatherings and assemblies found themselves regularly attacked. The Sentinel abounded with tales of Protestants being sent down to jail for assaults and Catholics allowed to go free. In the late 1870’s ‘Black Northern’ sent the Sentinel a ‘Letter from Montreal’ every two months or so. In these missives he is scathing about the constant harassment of Protestant gatherings that take place in the city. Returning from an Orange Young Britons concert one evening, a number of Orangemen tried to make their way back to the Point over Wellington Bridge. However, they were advised that a group of Irish Catholic Union men were waiting to ambush them. Some Orangemen were already on the bridge when they were fired upon. A second ambush by another group had the unintentional effect of leaving one of the Catholics dead. Before the concert itself another Orangeman was stabbed on Wellington Street. Further attacks included the harassment of Protestant public prayer meetings in Dominion Square. ‘Semper Fidelis’ in the Sentinel criticized the Montreal papers for calling the attackers “lower class rowdies”. He believed that the Montreal Witness was afraid to name who they really were, i.e. Irish Roman Catholics from Griffintown. Ten years later the Sentinel noted that “roughs” from Griffintown were still targeting Protestants, this time the Salvation Army. Sometimes even Protestant churches in working-class areas of Montreal were vandalized. In May 1899, Taylor Presbyterian Church in Montreal’s East End was attacked with stones and bullets. The police blamed the incident on ‘rowdies’ but some believed that it may have been certain members of the Roman Catholic community fired up in response to the imperial jingoism of the Protestant community in support of the Boer War. St. Paul’s Mission in Point St. Charles was another church that came under frequent attack between the months of March and July. Rev. Charles Doudiet was the pastor of the church and an Orangemen. In his annual report for 1902, he stated that people had started to frequent the church in greater numbers since gratings were put up outside the windows to protect them. The church itself was broken into three times and ransacked, and Sunday school children were insulted on their way home. Doudiet claimed that the police were helpless to protect them. Interestingly, he noted that since the month of August, things had quietened down and that more people had been attending the church.
Previously Orangemen were not so resilient. In 1878 ‘Black Northern’ complained that there was about eight or nine Catholic processions a year that occurred in Montreal that passed by unmolested but at the same time Orange parades were considered offensive. He would go on to lament that “The intolerant and arrogant spirit exhibited by the Romish majority in this city, coupled with the dullness of business, has caused a great many of our Point St. Charles brethren to seek fresh fields and pastures new. A pioneer party from this neighbourhood having settled in Muskoka, a great number have followed them, intending for themselves a home in the new country”. Unlike in the rest of Canada, the Orange Order in Montreal found their space restricted, not just by the narrowness of streets and the claustrophobia of buildings but by the territorial claims of an opposing culture that sought to impose their own distinctive narratives on the cityscape. An editorial in The True Witness and Catholic Chronicle in the aftermath of the Hackett killing stated “The Catholic people of this country will welcome strife rather than submit to persecution. They will hail civil war with joy rather than be trailed at the heel of an Orange ascendancy”. Place-centered identity can then be understood as a discursive creation where a certain discourse has sustained a hegemonic grip on a given area, such as that achieved by the Catholic majority of the working-class districts of Montreal. The necessity for the creation of the Irish Catholic Union was framed as a defence of visible religious identity on the streets of Montreal. J.C. Fleming was convinced that allowing the Orange Order to march on the 12th July would make Montreal like every other village, town and city in Canada where Orangemen insult “the religion of the Irish and the Frenchman, and the nationality of the former” Fleming goes on to state that the ICU was formed so that in Canada there would be at least one city where a Catholic priest can walk the streets without being shoved off the sidewalks and without a sister of mercy being insulted.
Despite Fleming’s strident tone, other voices tried to strike a chord of reason. Francis Hincks noted the similarity of the Order’s situation in Québec with that of Ireland, advising them that they should no more think of marching in the streets of Montreal than they should in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Waterford. In the years ahead, further attempts were made to undermine the Order’s position in Québec. In 1884 in anticipation of the passing of the Jesuits Estates Act, an act was put forward for the incorporation of the Orange Order. Liberal M.P. and future Irish Parliamentary candidate Edward Blake made a vitriolic attack on the Order and the incorporation act did not pass in parliament. This especially incensed the Orange Order as the Jesuit Estates Act not only recognized the Jesuit Order but would grant them a large sum of public money for lands taken from them over a hundred years earlier. Orangemen in Montreal tried to explain to their Ontarian brethren that things were not as black and white as they appeared in the press outside Québec. In a letter to the Sentinel a Montreal Orangeman under the pseudonym ‘G’ stated that the intelligent French-Canadian workingmen with whom he had daily contact had a very good understanding of constitutional liberty and with regard to the Jesuits Estates Bill, he suggested to Ontarian Orangemen that they refrain from taking the lead in the movement to strike down the bill. Québec Anglophones feared that Orangemen campaigning for the removal of minority language rights in Ontario would conversely affect their own language rights in Québec. Even when the Orange Incorporation Act was finally passed in 1890, an Irish Catholic M.P. from Montreal tried to introduce an amendment that would have prevented the Incorporation Act from being enacted in Québec.
Another problem that the Order faced in Montreal was that there was no frontier for them to expand with the same kind of rapidity they did in other parts of Canada. It had to adapt itself to an already established and foreign cultural geography. With increased industrialization more and more francophones arrived from rural Québec increasing the Catholic majority of the city. Houston and Smyth have pointed out that as a result, communication between the Québec lodges and the rest of Canada was difficult and inter-regional squabbles were common. By 1883 much of the internal borders of the city were starting to take shape. ‘G’ noted that year that the Catholic processions had been confined to the francophone part of the city. At the turn of the century, the Montreal Orange lodges witnessed an increase in their membership in line with the continuing rise of the city’s population. An example of the greater accommodation of identities that was developing in the city can be seen in Orangeman and IPBS member William Galbraith. Born on the Longford/Cavan border, Galbraith immigrated to Montreal as a young man and like many other Irish Protestants rose quickly in the business and commercial world of the city. By the time he attained the position of Provincial Grand Master of Québec, he already spoke French as a second language due to his large number of Francophone clients.
Both the IPBS and the Orange Order sought to cultivate and maintain their own particular Protestant culture and identity among the Catholic majority of Canada’s commercial capital. While both institutions propagated their social mission in different ways, they both eventually had to adapt to the realities of their demographic minority status. As evidenced by the outmigration of certain Orangemen from Pointe St. Charles, those who refused to compromise sought to make a new start elsewhere in Canada. But for those who chose to stay, Montreal’s multiethnic interface allowed them to refashion their cultural identities in new and accommodating ways, creating a distinctive Canadian-based identification as a result.