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Toronto, the Belfast of Canada

The Orange Order and the Shaping of Municipal Culture

by (author) William J. Smyth

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2015
General, General, Ireland, Social History, General, Great Britain, History
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    Publish Date
    Apr 2015
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    Publish Date
    Apr 2015
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  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2015
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In late nineteenth-century Toronto, municipal politics were so dominated by the Irish Protestants of the Orange Order that the city was known as the “Belfast of Canada.” For almost a century, virtually every mayor of Toronto was an Orangeman and the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne was a civic holiday. Toronto, the Belfast of Canada explores the intolerant origins of today’s cosmopolitan city.

Using lodge membership lists, census data, and municipal records, William J. Smyth details the Orange Order’s role in creating Toronto’s municipal culture of militant Protestantism, loyalism, and monarchism. One of Canada’s foremost experts on the Orange Order, Smyth analyses the Orange Order’s influence between 1850 and 1950, the city’s frequent public displays of sectarian tensions, and its occasional bouts of rioting and mayhem.

About the author

William J. Smyth is the president emeritus of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth and a past president of the Geographical Society of Ireland and the Association of Canadian Studies in Ireland.

William J. Smyth's profile page


  • Winner, Floyd S. Chalmers Award for Best Book in Ontario History awarded by The Champlain Society

Editorial Reviews

"The wealth of demographic and statistical analysis over such a wide timeframe makes Toronto, the Belfast of Canada an important read for scholars of Protestantism and the Irish in Ontario."

British Journal of Canadian Studies, vol 30 no 2

‘Smyth’s exploration of Toronto’s Orange culture is fascinating and illuminating… This is a rich and important contribution to the studies of the Irish diaspora on both a local and a transnational level.’

Canadian Journal of Irish Studies vol 40:2017

‘This is a well written and impressively researched study of the role and impact of the orange order fraternity in shaping of a civic culture in Toronto between 1850 and 1950.’

Canadian Historical Review vol 97:02:2016

‘Smyth’s book is an enlightening, well-written, and rigorous exploration through the hierarchical patronage system and ethno-religious moralism of the Orange Order as it manifested in Toronto and paralleled Belfast’s history from 1850-1950.’

American Review of Canadian Studies vol 47:02:2017

Toronto, the Belfast of Canada locates Orangeism in a wider imperial frame, and deftly handles the comparisons with other territories – not least Belfast, where Smyth’s cross-analysis is detailed. He correctly correlates Canadian Orangeism with the Order in Ulster. … Smyth is able to show that, in a comparative emigrant context, Orangeism in Canada was unique, and at the heart of it was Toronto.

Times Higher Education, August 13, 2015

‘It is one of the few studies exploring Order’s interface with public power structures and contributes significantly to the growing literature of diasporic global Orangeism.’

Journal of Historical Geography vol 30:1-2:2015

"This is a well-written and impressively researched study of the role and impact of the Orange Order fraternity in the shaping of a civic culture in Toronto between 1850 and 1950."

Historical Studies Vol 83:2017

Other titles by William J. Smyth