British Columbia

Reconciliation week: Orange Shirt Day arrives early at B.C. Legislature

Horgan and over a dozen MLA's join activist Phyllis Webstad in wearing orange shirts in recognition of B.C.'s troubled history of residential schools.

Horgan and over a dozen MLA's join activist Phyllis Webstad in wearing orange shirts recognizing troubled past

John Horgan leads an Orange Shirt Day selfie with Phyllis Webstad (centre), Indigenous relations minister Scott Fraser, and several other MLA's on the steps of the B.C. legislature (Mike McArthur/CBC)

When Phyllis Webstad was six years old, her grandmother bought her a 'shiny' orange shirt to wear to her first day at residential school.

When the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation student arrived at the school near Williams Lake, her clothes were stripped and taken away immediately.

She may have lost that orange shirt forever, but now she wears a new one to raise awareness for all the people impacted by Canada's legacy of residential schools.

"[The orange shirt] to acknowledge survivors of the Indian residential schools and their families, and to open the door to discussion of all aspects of residential schools," she told guest host Michelle Eliot on CBC's BC Almanac.

Webstad began her annual Orange Shirt campaign in 2013 and has since shared her story to thousands of Canadian. On Thursday, she was honored by the B.C. government on the steps of the provincial legislature.

"If we don't remember our past, we may well repeat it. And that's the fundamental importance of having a day like this," said B.C. Premier John Horgan, who was donning an orange shirt of his own.

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Two women, wearing orange shirts, hug.
Phyllis Webstad hugs indigenous NDP MLA Melanie Mark as members of the legislature celebrate Orange Shirt Day. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

'Every child matters'

Orange Shirt Day officially takes place on Sept. 30, but arrived early at the legislature as part of B.C.'s annual Reconciliation Week — a week that honours residential school survivors, and addresses the work that must be done in order to meet goals established by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Phyllis Jack Webstad's story of her first day at residential school in William's Lake, B.C., is the inspiration behind Orange Shirt Day. (

Webstad says it hasn't been easy sharing her story, but seeing children don the orange shirts is a sign of progress.

"One of the big impacts for me is seeing the little ones wearing the shirts and learning the true history of First Nations," she said.

"I have three grand sons but I can't help but think what a different world they're going to grow up in than I did — in a society that knows more about them, and that they know more about themselves too."

Vancouver's Walk for Reconciliation takes place at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

 The Walk follows a 2 kilometre route beginning at the intersection of Cambie Street and Georgia Street. to Strathcona Park., where a Reconciliation Expo will be held from 10:30 a.m. PT to 3 p.m. PT.

Orange Shirt Day began in Williams Lake in 2013 and has since spread to schools across B.C. and Canada. (


Jon Hernandez

Video Journalist

Jon Hernandez is an award-winning multimedia journalist from Vancouver, British Columbia. His reporting has explored mass international migration in Chile, controversial logging practices in British Columbia, and the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Follow Jon Hernandez on Twitter: