Loyal Orange Lodge parade marching north on Albert Street in Clinton on July 12, 1916.
The Signal Star
At the turn of the last century, when the Loyal Orange Lodge was at its most powerful, it is estimated that one in three Ontario men was a member of the Order. They were militantly Protestant, Celtic, fanatically British and numbered Prime Ministers amongst its member.
For nearly 150 years, the Orange Order was represented by Murphy Lodge No. 710.
The Clinton Lodge was chartered on Jan. 18, 1858. William Murphy, a 29-year-old Irish immigrant who had settled in Goderich Township, was the first lodge master. With a membership of 14, the lodge originally met in Peter Cantelon’s Clinton home. Within a few years, Murphy had helped organize lodges in Hullett, Varna, and Goderich Township.
The Loyal Orange Lodge was a Protestant fraternal organization that had its roots in Northern Ireland. In English Canada it was an important social organization that eased the hardships of wilderness life during the 19th-century Celtic diaspora. The lodges provided a ready-made social network which emphasized education and religion. Parades, box socials, At-Homes, dances and picnics were activities the local lodges organized.
The lodges gave charitable relief to members and their families in distress. They were also strong advocates for public education based on loyalty, patriotism and religion.
However, the Orange Order also carried with it from the Old Country its anti-Catholic prejudices. The Orange Order fomented the sectarian divide that characterized Canadian politics until the World War era. As the decades passed, its anti-Catholic stance softened but it remained one of the Order’s defining features.
In February 1875, the Clinton Lodge was host to the annual Provincial Grand Orange Lodge’s annual communication. Despite a raging snowstorm, delegates representing hundreds of lodges throughout the province congregated in Clinton to discuss the Order’s progress and plan events and demonstrations for the upcoming year.
In an impressive show of strength, the Orange delegates paraded to St Paul’s church behind the Clinton Star Cornet Band to hear the Grand Chaplain deliver a rousing sermon to the loyal tribe.
Over the years, the Clinton Lodge met in several locations in town. In 1874, the Clinton New Era advertised that the Clinton lodge met in a hall across from the Knox Hotel on the Huron Road. By 1884, they met upstairs in a building “opposite the Town Hall.” In 1893, their meeting place was located in the Victoria block. It moved again to the McKay Block in 1895.
In 1904, the lodge was located above the Molson’s Bank where the Bank of Montreal is currently. In 1919, the lodge moved again to the room above the Carnegie Library where it remained until 1960, when Murphy Lodge purchased the abandoned Brucefield train station and moved it to Charles Street for use as their meeting hall.
In June 1898, when William Murphy died at age 69, he could take satisfaction that Orangeism in the Clinton area was thriving. Murphy was mourned as one who “lived up to the principles of the Order.” Over 100 Orangemen paraded behind his remains to the Clinton cemetery.
Indeed, the previous year, Murphy Lodge had 57 active members plus a branch of the Order of Young Britons, the organization’s youth branch. The Jubilee Preceptory of the Royal Black Knights of Ireland, a higher order of the Orange Lodge was warranted in 1897. In 1907, a fife and drum band was added consisting of 12 fifers, two drums and one triangle.
The Orange Order was Clinton’s most popular fraternal organization.
In November 1913, the Clinton News Record under the editorship of fellow Orange brother, Captain A. M. Todd, reported that Murphy Lodge was “in a very prosperous condition” with “a large addition having been made to the membership” in the past year.
On July 5, 1914, on the eve of the Great War, over 150 Orangemen paraded to Ontario Street Methodist Church for their annual church service. In his sermon, Rev. J. S. Allin, equated loyalty to the British Empire, and the “open Bible” with one’s patriotic duty.
He warned that “the influence of Orangemen shall be exerted to secure women the right to vote on equal terms with ourselves.”
The Orange Order could not foresee that within months they would be fighting for both women’s suffrage and the Empire.
Murphy Lodge, like hundreds of others in Ontario, enthusiastically supported Canada’s involvement in the Great War. Lodges held benefits and raised money during the war. But most importantly, they gave freely of their sons. Many of their members, like two of the sons of David Cantelon, Canada’s “Apple King”, lost their lives in that conflict.
In January 1917, the parents of William Walker, a slain soldier, received a condolence letter from Murphy Lodge. Written in language incomprehensible today, the lodge members expressed their thanksgiving “for the good example and the brave life which has paid the Supreme Sacrifice” and that despite their sorrow, the lodge rejoiced in the “beautiful, courageous and heroic life” of one who fell for “King and Country to defend the glorious liberties which are ours.” That same year lodge membership surpassed 100 members.
Despite the Great War’s cost, the Orange Order reached its peak in numbers in the 1920s. In 1921, the Ladies Orange Benevolent Association was established in Clinton giving women an equal but separate place in the Order. At their 50th anniversary in 1971, among the causes they supported were the True Blue and Orange Home; the CNIB, Cancer Fund; Heart Fund and Help to Retarded. They became the most active wing of the lodge in later years.
The most important date in the Orange Calendar was the July 12th Orange parade or “Orange Walk.” Meant to celebrate the Protestant King Williams III’s victory over King James II’s forces on the Boyne River on July 12, 1690, the Orange parade was a demonstration of the Order’s militancy and strength. Clinton was host to several of these parades. In 1926, 3,000 Orange members paraded along Albert and Victoria streets while a crowd of 13,000 spectators cheered them on.
The Orange Parades were undoubtedly thrilling spectacles as flags, fifes and lambeg drums aroused the loyal tribe as marchers bedecked in ribbons and regalia marched behind colourfully hand painted banners.
The day culminated in band competitions, sporting events, sermons and speeches gave the day a carnival atmosphere.
Pride of place was reserved for the senior ranking Orangeman (usually the local lodge master) who rode a white horse at the head of parade as a representation of ‘King Billy.’
Prizes were awarded for the best band, best-dressed lodge and oldest and youngest member on parade.
Too old to March, Murphy Lodge presented a cane to Brother David Beacom on his 100th birthday in April 1927 to help him walk in the upcoming parade.
As late as 1958, on Murphy Lodge’s 100th anniversary, 59 lodges and 9,000 people attended the Orange Walk in Clinton.
However, the post-war world was rapidly changing. The faith of their fathers was no longer relevant to the baby boom generation. The Orders’ values belonged to another age for the generation raised in the Cold War and membership rapidly declined.
Murphy Lodge continued to operate until 2002 when it surrendered its charter ending a colourful chapter in Clinton’s history.