My Complicated Relationship with the Orange Order – Part 2

The Prestons were Orangemen at least for 4 generations, about 130 years. I believe, as Isaac was one of the originals, it was expected of you as a family member to belong. That membership was part of your identity. And as Isaac had helped form the order, I expect that there was pressure and pride to stay with it, be active and provide leadership, which they did. However, times changed. Membership shrank quickly after the peak in the 1920’s, especially after World War II. The world had changed. My grandfather left the order at some point. It may have been after his move to the Peterborough farm in 1925. His efforts would have been spent building his farm, providing for his wife and children and engaging in his new community. His change may have also been a result of Catholics being his neighbours. They too were fine people, so why stir up a fuss against fellow Canadians? The world’s enemies were now the Germans and the Russians. And why march in those parades, digging up all the old memories; good or bad.

 Bethnay Band 1

Here is a portion a wide photo from the early 1920’s, of the 100 plus member Bethany Brass Band, sponsored by the Bethany Orange Lodge. The Lodge had over 300 members in pre WWI. My grandfather, Bernard Preston is indicated with ink label.

My thoughts.

I, of course am not an Orangeman. I do believe that the bad side of the Order has tarnished the good side. The Cavan Blazers, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, stories of election riots in early Canada, have left us with images of prejudice and violence. The parades still stir the pot. And yet, they still parade, as they have for 195 years in Toronto.

In doing my research for my book and talking with Orangemen, there is still charitable work in their efforts. Members in the early 1800’s looked after their neighbours, with food, labour and a caring oversight.

Yet, we are identified today by the team colours we wear. I remember coaching my son’s house league hockey team. We were Meadowvale. We wore black and gold – like the Bruins! The other kids, their parents, they were the enemy. Parents chose sides in the stands. I recall two opposing parents willing to go to the parking lot to do battle. The reason, a trivial slight.

Our neighbours are everyone, coming from everywhere. It is a delight to discover another person’s story. How they came to Canada. What obstacles they faced, and still do. We do have much in common with values and humanity. There is much that is different, like cultural practices. Embrace those differences.


Heber Preston and fellow Orangemen – early 1920’s.

My Complicated Relationship with the Orange Order

What is your first impression of the Orangemen? Angry old white men with black bowler hats and orange sashes, marching to the fife and drum? Not letting long ago battles die?  Bigotry? “Raisin hell”? Yes? Well it is yes and no. How about doing charitable work? Defending Canada in the Upper and Lower Canada 1837 Rebellions and the Fenian Raids when there was no Canadian army? All true. The Orange Order were both bad and good, and are woven into my book, from the characters’ experiences.

Here’s a sample of ongoing Belfast traditions – 2015.

orono1896 Orange parade


And a while back, the Orange parade of 1896 in Orono Ontario


The first Orange parade took place July 12, 1796, through the property of the Gosford Estate, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. My 3G grandfather Isaac Preston was there as one of the first members. The order, with traditions taken from the Masons, established themselves a defenders of the British ways and power, as opposition to the growing swell of Irish Catholic discontent. To be Catholic in Ireland was to be a second class citizen. Orange members were farmers, tradesmen, merchants, military men and ministers! Membership and lodges were formed in a feverish pitch. When the Irish Rebellion of 1798, broke out, the Orangemen filled the militia and professional forces of the Crown.

In Canada, as settlers of Irish descent, became established, so too did the Lodges. The 1878 Historic Atlas of Northumberland and Durham County listed 6 Lodges for a population of 4,114 in Manvers Township. Most of the adult men, would have belonged.

Social club

In early Ontario, many areas including the north shore of the St. Lawrence and the northern townships of Durham County, were settled by Irish Protestants. The Order provided a social scene, initially for men to gather, share stories, and a little drink. (Little being a relative term). Later women were included with their own activities in the early 1900’s. I recall women marching in the early 1960’s in Peterborough on July 12, with white dresses and white gloves.

Community service

Collections were made and turned over to those less fortunate in the community. That included non- Protestants. Work bees were organized to help raise barns, bring in crops, help the sick or injured.

Militia service

The bulk of the Upper Canada militia during the Rebellion of 1837, were Orangemen. To volunteer to defend your country (Great Britain) and your faith, was to be admired, and expected. Again, when the Fenians crossed the Niagara River in 1866, the Orangemen went to battle against the Irish Republican invaders from the USA.

Preston - Fenian Raid - CopyNote: Captain Isaac Preston Jr., in the second row. Col. Williams died during the Riel Rebellion.  Sub note: Isaac Jr.’s daughter Caroline married Sam Hughes, but she died shortly after her marriage. Hughes became Canada’s Minister of Militia and Defense during WWI.

Continued …