Monday, November 29, 2004

Organized Religious Bigotry in Canada

I'm not aware of any of my ancestors, in either Scotland or Canada, belonging to the Orange Order, but some may have. The Order is an organization focused on British ethnicity, loyalty to the monarchy, and Protestant Christian religious identity, and on being not-Irish or not-French, not-republican, and most definitely not-Catholic. It was once a powerful organization in Canada, particularly Ontario and New Brunswick, but its membership and power have declined sharply over the decades. It remains a powerful institution in Northern Ireland, and a player in the sectarian strife that plagues the region.

This is a PDF file of an academic study comparing the differing trajectories of the Orange Order in Canada and in Northern Ireland. According to this study, between 1870 and 1920 as many as one in three adult Protestant males in this country belonged to the Orange Order. Canadian Prime Ministers, including Sir John A. Macdonald to John Diefenbaker, were members. I have trouble believing this, but the paper says the city of Toronto did not have a single city councillor who was not a member of the Order until the 1930s. Membership in the Order in Canada has been declining since World War I, except in Newfoundland where the decline began in the 1960s. This article takes the Order's decline as part of a more general decline in religious sectarianism in Canada, and tries to draw lessons from it that might provide insights relevant to Northern Ireland.

Anyway, the article contains some interesting Canadian history that you don't normally hear about in school. You'll have to go to other sources, however, to really get a flavour for the Order's unpleasant political role in earlier Canadian history.

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