British Columbia

Orange Shirt Day events in B.C. marking National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

From a blanket exercise and a flag-raising ceremony to Indigenous spoken-word performances, communities across B.C. are commemorating the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, or Orange Shirt Day, in different ways.

Commemorative events are being held in North Vancouver, Delta, White Rock, Victoria, Prince George

People attend the Xe Xe Smun’eem-Victoria Orange Shirt Day Every Child Matters ceremony to honour residential school victims at Centennial Square in Victoria, on Sept. 30, 2021. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

It will be the second time Kevin O'Neill participates in a pilgrimage to commemorate the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, on Sept. 30.

Last year, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation councillor along with 200 others walked 8.5 kilometres from the Tsleil-Waututh reserve, located along Dollarton Highway in North Vancouver, to the site of the former St. Paul's Residential School, now occupied by St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School.

But this year, participants will walk the other way around.

"We're completing the cycle," said O'Neill.

"This is a healing journey for our elders, for our youth, because there's a lot of intergenerational trauma."

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To be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., it's one of dozens of events across the province commemorating the effects and legacy of residential schools. 

Sept. 30 was made a statutory holiday in 2021, days after the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed the discovery of about 200 potential burial sites on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops last July.

Sept. 30 is also known as Orange Shirt Day, which honours people who were forced to attend residential schools. It began in 2013 to honour residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, who had her orange shirt taken away on the first day of school.

O'Neill says he expects more community members will join this year, and he hopes they will acknowledge the reactions of spectators, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, on the sidelines.

"Last year, the people on the sidelines … you can feel the pain from them," he said. "This isn't just a healing journey for the Indigenous people. This is a healing journey for everyone.

"It's not just about learning about residential schools or the trauma the came with the residential schools, but also learning about all the host nations that they live around," he added.

"It's about reconciliation and repatriation."

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The City of Delta is also holding three "blanket exercise" events, where participants step on blankets as though stepping into the shoes of an Indigenous person. 

While standing on the blanket, participants will join facilitators in reading from a script, to learn about the history of Indigenous people's early encounters with European settlers.

Interested participants are asked to register for either of the three events on Friday and Saturday:

  • Harris Barn, Friday, 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
  • North Delta Recreation Centre, Friday, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
  • South Delta Recreation Centre, Saturday, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

White Rock

The City of White Rock is permanently raising the Semiahmoo First Nation flag at the west side of city hall, near the cenotaph, to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. 

Semiahmoo Chief Harley Chappell will host the ceremony on Friday at 10 a.m.


Residential school survivor Eddy Charlie is hosting the Xe Xe Smun' Eem ("sacred children" in the Cowichan language) Orange Shirt Day commemoration at Victoria's Centennial Square on Friday, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., which will feature Indigenous drum and spoken word performances

People watch Tsartlip dancers perform while attending the Xe Xe Smun’eem-Victoria Orange Shirt Day Every Child Matters ceremony at Victoria's Centennial Square on Sept. 30, 2021. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Prince George

The Lheidli T'enneh First Nation will hold a public event — including storytelling, drumming and singing — at the Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park bandshell on Friday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Later, the First Nation will also host a healing gathering at the Uda Dune Baiyoh ("House of Ancestors") from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

With files from Breanna Himmelright