Every so often I will receive an inquiry from somewhere in North America, from someone seeking information on their long-departed ancestors in Alberta.
In late March, I received one such email entitled “question”.
Tamara Harken, a resident of Seattle, Washington, had been looking through her grandparents’ box of memories when a particular photograph captured her attention.
Sepia-toned and a century old, it featured a gathering of stern-faced gentlemen, decked out in suits and saches, posing outdoors on a summer day.
Harken wondered if one of the men in the photo was Anthony Baker, a one-time resident of the town of Drumheller, Alberta.
“I believe my grandfather might be the man kneeling third from the right front row. He lived in Drumheller for sometime, where my father was born,” she explained.
“If it is him,” Tamara added intriguingly, “it would be the last picture taken of him before he lost his arm.”
Inscribed along the bottom of the photo was a curiously contemporary caption, printed in all-caps:
“JULY 12, 1915
FIRST ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF HAND HILL COUNTY
TOBERMORE L.O.L. NO. 2344 DRUMHELLER ALTA.”
“Is there any chance you might have some information on the event noted in this picture?” she inquired.
Tamara’s grandfather, Anthony Baker, was a son of Birmingham, England, who came to Canada in 1905 at the age of 22. A mechanic by trade, he found his way to the town of Drumheller in 1913. Baker spent a few years in the badlands, his life including an unexpected turn in the summer of 1915, when he answered the call to return home to England for a year to help with the war effort. While overseas Baker lost his arm in a German bombing raid, when the munitions factory where he worked was targeted by a Zeppelin airship, prompting him to return home with his family in 1916 once he was well enough to travel.
The story of Baker’s wartime adventure is expertly captured by Victoria-based historical researcher, Steve Clifford, or “Jakealoo” as is his nom de plume. Clifford has done Yeoman’s work on his website, Doing Our Bit, digging up the history of the war “munitions scheme” Baker was a part of, and provides details about the Zeppelin bombing raid that cost Baker his appendage.
While researching her grandfather’s box of memories, Harken came across a number of century-old photos from the Drumheller years, including the celebration picture in question.
Who were these gentlemen, she wondered? And what were they celebrating?
As it turns out, an article in the Drumheller Mail provides valuable clues.
In July 2014, an ornate banner of mysterious origin turned up at a local estate sale. Bright red and embellished with golden fringe and tassels, it featured the image of a man on horseback, with “Tobermore L.O.L. No. 2344 Drumheller, Alberta” embroidered across the top.
The man on horseback we learn is King William III: Protestant king of England, Scotland, and Ireland during the late 17th Century. Having started his life as the Prince of Orange in modern-day France, William III usurped the English throne from his uncle—the Catholic king, James II—and later repelled James’s attempts to reclaim it at the Battle of the River Boyne in Ireland in July 1690. By thwarting his uncle’s efforts to restore Catholicism to the British Isles, William acquired the undying allegiance of many British Protestants and their descendants. A religious fraternal society in honour of Orange was created in Ulster, Northern Ireland some time later, its members referring to themselves as “Orangemen”.
Introduced to eastern Canada by Ulster immigrants, the movement gained widespread popularity nationwide amongst Protestants of British extraction.
“A politico-religious society, the Orange Order holds as its aims the defence of Protestantism, and the twinned insistence of loyalty to the British monarchy and maintenance of Canada’s constitutional arrangements with Britain,” explained Cecil Houston and William J. Smyth in their 1980 book, The sash Canada wore: A historical geography of the Orange Order in Canada.
As for LOL, it didn’t mean “laugh out loud”, as the Mail’s reporter jests. “[I]t means Loyal Orange Lodge.”
Indeed, the Orangeman’s loyalty to Great Britain was no laughing matter. The opposite side of the banner is replete with symbols steeped in British identity: a bulldog standing on a Union Jack flanked top and bottom by the slogans, “A United Empire”, and “What we have, we’ll hold”. Other watchwords included on the banner were “One Flag”, “One School”, “One Language,” and “The English”.
According to Houston and Smyth, “Orangeism” acquired a reputation for both “community conflict and religious discrimination”. This was owed in part to the Lodge’s steadfast opposition to Catholicism, and their core belief that Catholic allegiance to the Pope rendered them unable to be loyal to a Protestant nation. Their involvement in much of the internal societal discord in Canada during the 19th century, including the 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada, and the Riel and North West Rebellions of 1870 and 1885, also helped them acquire “a rather negative image”.
In the multi-ethnic province of Alberta, lodges were less common than in eastern Canada, and mostly made up of ex-patriot Ontarians and Maritime Canadians with a strong Loyalist bent, as well as British immigrants, and the odd American. In addition to opposing non-British immigration, Alberta Orange Lodges campaigned against separate schools for Francophone students, and the use of French in schools.
The “Hand Hills County” Orange Lodge was organized in late 1914 at a time of great patriotic fervency in Canada following the start of the First World War. Being a man of English origin, it is not surprising Baker was drawn to this Anglophilic fraternity. Sentiments for Britain, and against the enemy, were running high at the time, and there was great pressure to publicly demonstrate one’s loyalty to the King and Empire.
The Lodge included members from Drumheller, and the communities of Youngstown, Munson, and Hanna. “Hand Hills” refers to a plateau named for Blackfoot warrior “Michichi”, or “Little Hand”, which is situated about half-way between Drumheller and Hanna. The order’s Irish ties are also reflected in the name “Tobermore”, presumably an homage to a village in Northern Ireland.
The photograph appears to have been taken at the 225th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne celebration in Drumheller, Alberta on July 12, 1915. As detailed in the Hanna Herald, the four founding lodges, as well as Highland and Verdant Valley, converged on Drumheller for the first ever celebration of the “Glorious Twelfth”, as the anniversary of the battle is known in Orange circles.
Delegates from across the region arrived mid-morning, and after some brief addresses and a lengthy lunch, assembled at Drumheller’s Orange Hall for the trademark procession to the athletic grounds. During an Orange Walk, a tradition that continues in Northern Ireland, and parts of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth to this day, those involved typically sport dark suits, and sashes that are orange in colour, which is likely what is reflected in the photo. A band is typically involved, as is singing. Below is a verse from a popular song, “The sash my father wore”, referring to the Glorious Twelfth celebration:
“Here I am a loyal Orangeman
Just come across the sea.
For singing and for dancing
I’m sure that I’ll please thee.
I’ll sing and dance with any man
As I did in days of yore
And on the Twelfth I’ll proudly wear
The sash my father wore.”
Upon arriving at the grounds, the members enjoyed an afternoon of “sound advice” from many speakers, concerts from the Highland band, and athletic competitions, featuring a football match between the Hanna Tigers and Newcastle (not United) of Drumheller, which ended in a hard-fought draw.
The Lodge remained active in Drumheller, Hanna, and other communities throughout the war years, and the years immediately following. Efforts centred on sustaining the annual Glorious Twelfth commemoration, which was celebrated well into the ‘20s in Hanna, and campaigning in favour of temperance and prohibition. Frequent activities included parades, picnics in the member communities, and motivational speakers.
As time progressed, mention of an Orange presence in Drumheller disappeared from the pages of the Drumheller Review, being altogether absent by the ‘30s. The lodge seems to have endured at least into the ‘30s in Hanna, where a chapter of the Ladies Orange Benevolent Association (L.O.B.A.) was also founded in the early ‘20s, and remained active for a time throughout that decade, possibly longer.
Today, only three Orange Lodges remain active in Alberta, focusing on supporting local charities and keeping the faith.
Baker and his family soon moved on from Drumheller, and he spent the remainder of his years in the greener climes of British Columbia.
Houston, C., & Smyth, W. J. (1978). The orange order and the expansion of the frontier in Ontario, 1830-1900. Journal of Historical Geography, 4(3), 251.
Houston, C. J., & Smyth, W. J. (1980). The sash Canada wore: A historical geography of the Orange Order in Canada. University of Toronto Press.
Palmer, H. (1972). Land of the Second Chance: A history of ethnic groups in Southern Alberta. Lethbridge, Alta.: Lethbridge Herald.
Thank you to Tamara Harken for her permission to publish this article.
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Since 2009, hundreds of people from across Canada and the United States have contacted me with questions about Forgotten Alberta, the places I write about, and the people who once lived there. If you have a question, or two, or ten, or you just want to say “hi”, feel free to drop me a line! I would also be grateful for any stories, photos or video you might want to share and submit as well.