Prior to the 1840s, Saint John and Toronto in British North America (BNA) were relatively stable, homogenous urban centers. The majority of the population in these regions favored the English constitutional system and practiced Protestantism. By 1840, Toronto had developed into one of the most prominent urban centers in BNA, while Saint John had grown into New Brunswick's primary port for the export and import of manufactured products, foodstuffs, and immigrants. It is not a coincidence that a large influx of Irish Catholics emigrated from Ireland to Saint John and Toronto when the Great Famine struck in the 1840s. However, the growth of Irish Catholic immigration in these regions was accompanied by a surge of division and conflict. The expansion of an institutionalized nativism organization, known as the Orange Order, was a direct response to the increasing number of unwelcome Irish Catholic immigrants in cities dominated by British institutions. The Orange Order's members comprised mostly of British garrison troops and Irish Protestant immigrants whom advocated for the defense of Protestantism and English institutions. However, the conflicts in Saint John and Toronto were not primarily the result of religious and ethnic differences, rather they represented a struggle to sustain employment in a decade of economic hardship and obtain adequate political representation.
Even though the population of Saint John and Toronto consisted primarily of British representatives, Loyalists, and Protestants, there is evidence that some Irish Catholics were present in these urban areas before the Great Famine of the 1840s. The Irish immigrants brought over with them the tradition of parades and demonstrations meant to represent the interest of Catholics, such as "St. Patrick's Day," which was meant to commend the Battle of Boyne. In 1832, the Toronto St. Patrick's Society was established, which suggested that there was a growing need for Irish Catholic representation and organization in Toronto.