Phyllis Webstad
(Phyllis Webstad / City of Victoria)

Orange Shirt Day is being marked in Victoria on September 30 with events aimed at raising awareness around Canada’s residential schools past.

The annual nation-wide event is a legacy project of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in May 2013.

During the May 2013 events, residential school survivor Phyllis (Jack) Webstad told her story of how on her first day as a six-year-old student, her new orange shirt that was a gift from her grandmother was taken away from her.

Canada’s residential school system operated from 1876 to 1996 and saw Indigenous youth and children forcibly removed from their families and placed into classrooms.

The goal of this system was the explicit conversion of Indigenous youth to Christian faith and the forced assimilation and destruction of First Nations cultural identity.

Some estimates have said as many as 20,000 children were forced into residential schools, and over 6,000 died in the system.

The City of Victoria is marking the day with a virtual ceremony filmed in advance. The ceremony is emceed by Victoria Lea Pruden, an Âpihtawkosisân/Michif knowledge keeper and healing and cultural safety advocate from the Metis Nation.

Webstad will also be in attendance for the ceremony as a special guest, along with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Mayor Lisa Helps.

The ceremony can be viewed on the City of Victoria Facebook Page at noon on Wednesday.

UVic is also hosting an online event, including a conversation between Webstad and Chancellor Shelagh Rogers. That discussion can be viewed on the university’s Youtube channel.

Another online discussion for locals to view is the Royal BC Museum’s @Home series, which will be hosting a Zoom call with residential school survivor Eddy Charlie and friend Kristin Spray.

The RBCM@Home event can be viewed on the museum’s Facebook Page.

For an in-person remembrance, Explore Songhees is inviting the public to view a canoe crossing and song to honour all Indigenous children taken from their homes to residential schools.

The canoe will pass by Fisherman’s Wharf at 4:45 p.m. as it makes its way to Protocol Corner at the lower causeway. The return crossing departs at 5:45 p.m.

The Songhees Food Truck, the Bannock Bar & Songhees Gallery will also be on site from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Ship Point, with a portion of proceeds from Bannock bar sales going to support Lekwungen Language revitalization programs.

More details on the Explore Songhees event are on Facebook.

Anyone looking for more information on Orange Shirt Day is encouraged to visit the event organization page at orangeshirtday.org.