The Orange Hall in Edmonton was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2007. In order for a site to be designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it must possess province-wide significance for either its history or architecture. To properly assess the historic importance of a resource, a historian crafts a context document that situates a resource within its time and place and compares it to similar resources in other parts of the province. This allows staff to determine the importance of a resource to a particular theme, time, and place. Below is some of the historical information used in the evaluation of the Orange Hall.
The Orange Order was founded in Ireland in 1795 as a fraternal social organization devoted to upholding the cause of the (Anglican) Church of Ireland and exposing and denouncing the purported evils of Catholicism. It was named for William of Orange, who, with Queen Mary, was King of England from 1688 to 1696. The Order began as a grass-roots organization, but made inroads into upper-class British Society in the 1820’s, when the King’s brother, the Duke of Cumberland, became a member and was elected Grand Master. On the whole, with its rituals and penchant for secrecy, it appears to have served as an Anglican counterpart to the Presbyterian oriented Masons. In time, however, it attracted people from all areas of British society who had strong anti-Catholic feelings.
The Grand Lodge of Orangemen of British North America was established in Brockville, Upper Canada, in 1830, and soon became a popular supporter of Conservatism. Even the young John A. MacDonald became a member, along with the grandfather of Emily Murphy. The movement gradually made its way westward, and, by the 1880’s, a Grand Lodge was in place for the North West Territories in Regina. In 1895, it was noted that a warrant had been issued for the establishment of a lodge in the new railway town of South Edmonton, with the Anglican Reverend R.A. Munroe to serve as Worshipful Master. Incentive had been provided by the Manitoba School Question, which had granted communities the right to establish separate schools in Manitoba and the North West Territories if the number of Catholic children in a district warranted it. Another issue was the use of French in official government business.
With Loyal Orange Lodge No. 1654 in place in South Edmonton, meetings began to be held in private residences. Among the members was Robert McKernan, later owner of the Dominion Hotel and the Princess Theatre, who became the first elected Worshipful Master of the Lodge. Another early member was R.W. Pettipiece, the editor of the South Edmonton News who was the first Recording Secretary. The big event of each year was the traditional 12th of July march down Whyte Avenue, accompanied by a fife and drum band, to celebrate the Victory of William III (of Orange) over the Catholic forces at the Battle of the Boyne in northern Ireland in 1692. By 1904, an impressive number of 2,500 people were on hand from all over Alberta to take part in the celebration.
In 1903, the Orangemen of Strathcona were able to acquire a lot from August Nanton in the heart of downtown for $150 and construct their own hall with volunteer labour. Like many Orange halls across the country, including the one in Edmonton, it was a wood frame structure, with a plane exterior, possibly reflecting the religious preference for the austere, preferred by many Orangemen of the time. A basement was dug, and a porch added in 1924. Otherwise, the building remains essentially the same as it was in 1903. In addition to Orange activities, the building was used as a meeting hall for other organizations, which may have been a factor in its survival, as meeting space was much sought after in the heart of Starthcona in later years. In 1994, the Hall was designated a Registered Historic Resource.
The Orange Hall is still owned by Lodge #1654, which continues to hold meetings there, and also rents it out to other organizations. In recent years, the Lodge itself, which now allows women members, has concentrated on charitable activities, and no longer stages its 12th of July celebration march.
Written by: David Leonard, Project Historian