The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children has agreed to pay $5 million to dozens of former residents who say they suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse while living at the Dartmouth orphanage.

The amount was revealed on Thursday in court documents as part of a settlement that has been 13 years in the works.

Ray Wagner, the lawyer for the claimants, said the settlement included a written apology but it was not what his clients were looking for.

"There was a proposed form but we found it very bland and we didn't find it sincere enough," he said.

"We said, 'Look, we'd prefer to just to take the settlement and we'll address the issues of apologies at a later point in time, hopefully in the context of some sort of inquiry,'" he said.

Tracey Donnington-Skinner, a former resident of the home, said the settlement comes as a bittersweet relief. She and her siblings spent most of their childhood at the home.

"It was like, 'Oh my Gosh, finally, after all of these years.' I remember having a conversation with my sister on the phone and she just couldn't believe it. She said, 'You mean this is an opportunity for us to put this behind us, to finally be able to bring some closure and have some semblance of a normal life?' And I said, 'Yes, that’s a possibility.' Just the thought of that was an occasion for tears," she said.

"The fact that they decided to settle is a little bit of an omission of guilt, so to speak, because nobody is going to settle with somebody for things they didn't do. Therefore, we feel this is probably as good as it's going to get."

Donnington-Skinner was one of the first people to come forward with allegations of abuse at the home.

The financial settlement still has to be approved by a judge. It then has to be advertised so the 140 residents involved in the class action lawsuit can decide if they want to opt out.

Thursday's settlement is with the orphanage, and the claimants say they'll continue their case against the province.

The Home for Colored Children opened in 1921 as an orphanage for black Nova Scotian children.

Last March, RCMP formed a special investigative team to look into abuse allegations and asked people to come forward.

Forty complainants came forward, who are now living in several provinces including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. The team visited the witnesses in each location.

In December, the RCMP said the evidence collected was not enough to support criminal charges.

Former residents say they want a full public inquiry into the physical and sexual abuse they suffered at the orphanage.

The home is currently a short-term centre for foster children of all races and cultures. The home also provides outreach services to vulnerable families in the African Nova Scotian community.

According to the Home for Colored Children website, the main funding for the centre comes from the province's Department of Community Services. Additional funding comes from the home's annual telethon and donations from the community.