Toronto

Toronto church commemorates Orange Shirt Day for the first time

The Islington United Church held two services on Sunday to commemorate Orange Shirt Day, which was inspired by the experience of a student whose orange shirt was taken from her at a residential school in 1973.

Day was inspired by experience of student whose orange shirt was taken from her at residential school in 1973

The Islington United Church held two services on Sunday to commemorate Orange Shirt Day. (Thom Varey)

The Islington United Church held two services on Sunday to commemorate Orange Shirt Day. It was the first time the church was observing the day which was inspired by the experience of a student whose orange shirt was taken from her at a residential school in 1973.

The church's communications officer Carole Bennett said they have been sharing the story of Orange Shirt Day`s founder for weeks. 

"We thought that this was a great time that would draw attention to the message of Orange Shirt Day — and encourage dialogue between Indigenous and non-indigenous people."

Members of the choir of the Islington United Church during Sunday's service commemorating Orange Shirt Day. (Thom Varey)

Phyllis Webstad started Orange Shirt Day in 2013 as a day of reflection on the scars of that era.

September 30 was chosen as it was typically the time when children were taken from their homes to residential schools.

However,  it is also remembered in schools to encourage anti-racism and anti-bullying sentiments.

When Webstad was six-years old, she was gifted a bright orange shirt by her grandmother.  

In 1973, she wore it to her first day at the residential school — St. Joseph Mission School in Williams Lake, B.C. As soon as she arrived, it was taken from her by school administers and never given back.

Orange Shirt Day was inspired by the story told by Phyllis Jack Webstad about how she was stripped of her new orange shirt on her first day at residential school in 1973. (OrangeShirtDay.org)

For the IUC, reconciliation began long before Orange Shirt Day.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the denomination's apology to all those who have been affected by residential schools.

The denomination has also sent petitions to the federal government, calling for justice reform following the verdict in the Colten Boushie case;  as well as to the Ontario government, fighting the cancellation of curriculum re-writes that would have involved Indigenous elders and educators.

For Bennett, the tragedy of the residential schools shakes her to her core as a mother.

"You can begin to imagine the hurt that Phyllis felt. You can imagine the hurt and the humiliation because you can empathize with another person."

To mark the day, Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald released a statement urging people to "remember Phyllis's story, along with the stories of all Residential School Survivors in Canada and keep them within our hearts."