Orange Order was a Protestant fraternal society, founded in 1795 in Ireland to commemorate the victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. During the Irish insurrection of 1798 it became the principal link between the British government and the Protestants in Ireland, with Orangemen filling the ranks of the volunteer militia and gaining control of most of the civil service. Although it remains powerful in Ulster, the order lost much of its influence in Ireland after passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. The lodges adopted a Masonic-type ritual and organization, providing for mutual aid and organizing social events. Orangemen who migrated to Britain and the colonies found the lodges useful in their adjustment to new environments.

The Grand Lodge of British North America was founded 1 January 1830 in Brockville, UC, by Ogle R. Gowan. He sought to use the lodges as a base for a political career, bringing Catholics and Orangemen together in 1836 to support the conservative cause. By 1844 the power of the Orange vote induced John A. Macdonald to become an Orangeman. There was a schism in 1853 over the Conservatives' alliance with the French Canadian Bleus. This was healed in 1856, but henceforth the Orange vote was divided. Orangemen have been accused of bringing old world quarrels to the new, but anti-Catholicism arrived in America with the Pilgrims. In Canada during the early 1860s, George Brown's liberal Globe accused Orange Grand Master Ogle Gowan of selling out the Protestant cause. Indeed, the Orange Grand Lodge acted as a brake on the ultraprotestant Equal Rights Associations of the 1880s and the American-based Protestant Protective Associations of the 1890s.

On both sides of the Atlantic, Orangemen have kept alive Irish Protestant folklore. The anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne is the Irish Protestant counterpart of St Patrick's Day. Its celebration is still an occasion for tension in Ulster, but in Canada it is merely one of many annual celebrations. The lodges reached the peak of their importance in Canada, both politically and socially, in the last quarter of the 19th century. They remained a force until the 1950s, and still retain some influence in rural communities.