The province has formally apologized to former residents who faced years of abuse at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, a former Halifax orphanage. 

Home for Colored Children apology

Political leaders join with former residents of the Home for Colored Children on Friday, the day the Nova Scotia government apologized to former residents for years of abuse at the Halifax orphanage. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Then residents of the orphanage suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse by staff over a 50-year period, until the 1980s.

'I am very proud today that I am a former resident of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, that is something that I used to be ashamed of.' - Tony Smith, former resident

Premier Stephen McNeil issued the apology at the provincial legislature Friday afternoon.

"It is one of the great tragedies in our province’s history that your cries for help were greeted with silence for so long," said McNeil. 

"Some of you faced horrific abuse that no child should ever experience. You deserved a better standard of care. For the trauma and neglect you endured, and their lingering effects on you and your loved ones, we are truly sorry."

McNeil went on to thank former residents for their "courage and perseverance in telling your stories. Your strength, your resilience, and your desire for healing and reconciliation should be an inspiration to all Nova Scotians."

Tony Smith, one of the former residents, thanked those who worked for many years to shed light on the abuses.

"There’s so much time, effort and energy by a lot of great people that got us to this point today. I’m very proud today that I am a former resident of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, that is something that I used to be ashamed of. I’m very proud that my peers and colleagues asked me to be a voice for them," he said.

The premier called the abuses at the home "only one chapter in a history of systemic racism and inequality that has scarred our province for generations."

McNeil called on Nova Scotians to "do better."

"An apology is not a closing of the books, but a recognition that we must cast an unflinching eye on the past as we strive toward a better future. We are sorry for your suffering, we are grateful for your courage, and we welcome your help in building a healthier future for all of us."

Payments to come

Home for Colored children

Premier Stephen McNeil shakes hands with former home resident Harriet Johnson. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

A $29-million class-action settlement with the Nova Scotia government was finalized in July. 

The judge who approved the settlement is still deciding how much lawyers representing the 300 former residents should receive in legal fees.

Ray Wagner is lead counsel for the former residents. He and his team are seeking $6.6 million in legal fees for their over 16 years of work.

Mike Dull, speaking for Wagner's team, said a decision from the judge on the legal fees is expected next week. He said there’s no reason that payments to former residents should be held up by the legal fees decision.

Friday marks the first day former residents can start submitting claims to an Ottawa assessment company.  

It's expected that the company will assess claims and start to send out the first payments this year.

The payments will come in two parts:

  1. "Common experience" payments, based on factors like the length of time spent at the home, that are likely to start this year. 
  2. For an "independent assessment process" that looks at more severe claims of abuse. That second step is expected to take place through next year.