The Old Orange Flag of Hemmingford

by Mary Ducharme  (February 2020)

The Loyal Orange Lodge 69 was a derelict building when I first saw it, with bits of white paint clinging to decaying wood. The brick chimneys were crumbling and the windows boarded. On the side facing Vieux Chemin was a sign ‘Hemmingford LOL 69.’ I had been informed that the Victoria Lodge was built in 1860 by Protestants from Ireland, the same year as the Prince of Wales drove the last rivet of the Victoria Bridge.

Unlocking the Lodge, with the use of the ancient key, felt like a strange unlocking of time. The entryway walls were scrawled with graffiti, the signatures of ancestors of the present generation of Hemmingfordians.

The room was inhabited by silent witnesses: a few scuffed tables and chairs and a podium. On the back wall was a splash of colour: an Orange Lodge banner once proudly raised in parades and other ceremonial occasions. The central motif was of a heroic ‘King Billy’ (William of Orange) on a white horse, and on the reverse, the image of Queen Victoria. The flag was crusted with bat and insect droppings and old dust; the silk fabric was brittle and in extremely fragile condition. On another wall was a framed Orange Lodge poster with symbols similar to those used by the Masons.

In Northern Ireland, the Orange society, secret and oath-bound, was formed by Protestant peasants in 1795. Their growing radicalism was matched by the radical elements of the Catholics. The lodges were active as rural vigilantes such as the Peep O’Day Boys who fought the Catholic counterpart, the Defenders. The rising sectarian rivalry at the time resulted in the Battle of the Diamond and years of civil unrest.

The conflict was not new. About a hundred years earlier Catholic James II was deposed from the English throne by his Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange. After mobilizing forces in France, James returned in 1689 and with his Jacobite army laid siege to Londonderry in Ulster, a Protestant stronghold. During the siege 4,000 ‘no surrender’ Protestants died in the city of starvation and disease. James eventually lost control of Ulster and headed with his army towards Dublin.

On July 12, 1690 the armies of William and James fought on the banks of the River Boyne, north of Dublin, with William the victor. Over 2,250 men perished and eye witnesses described the river as red with the blood of men and horses.

Horrific carnage fomented by foreign kings with envious eyes on the little green island was at the root of the radicalism that infected Ireland. The ‘loyal’ part of the Orange Lodge title was a fierce loyalty to William of Orange, and to all things English. In Northern Ireland this 17th century conflict reverberates to this day. And across the water Montreal newspapers of the 19th century reported brawls between Catholics and Protestants along parade routes on St Patrick’s Day and on July 12.

History is always part of the cargo on immigrant ships. Many Orangemen arrived as soldiers during the war of 1812, and as refugees from the potato famine. In this new setting there was a chance to own their own land and be successful in business– to be, at last, their own masters. Four prime ministers were Orangemen: McDonald, Abbot, Bowell, and Diefenbaker.

The census records of 1870 reveal that about one third of all Protestant males in Canada belonged to Orange Lodges. Local records showed that at the peak of Orangeism in Hemmingford there were approximately one hundred members in various lodges. Most were farmers or owners of small businesses. Robert Seller described Orangemen as hard workers, thrifty and benevolent. He was also an Orangeman.

In more recent times the men meeting “secretly” were plotting benevolence. Before social insurance, old age pension, government medical plans and welfare, the Orange Lodge often helped to fill the gap for individuals or families in need. If given a job recommendation by an Orangemen, a young man could be confident of getting hired. The Red Cross and other charities also benefited from their generosity.

Lodge 69 was once the popular, busy scene of social events like dances, wedding receptions, and picnics. The flag and King Billy greeted soldiers on their way off to war, and it waved welcome when they returned home.

With the passing of senior members, and many casualties of war, the Lodge faded because it seemed no longer relevant to the younger men. The Lodge turned in its charter in 2008 and is no more. Douglas Hadley is the last surviving member of Victoria Lodge’s loyal men.