Marking the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation across the Maritimes

Canadians across the country paused to reflect on the legacy of residential schools on Thursday, marking the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

While the province of New Brunswick did not make it a holiday, Nova Scotia did.

A sea of orange moved through Millbrook First Nation. 

It's all part of confronting Canada's trauma and understanding that it will take several steps.

"Canada is absorbing the truth," said Elder Patsy Paul Martin. "And in order to have reconciliation, you have to acknowledge the wrongdoings."

The future understood the past.

"We're here to honour the children who never made it from residential schools," said Xander Bernard.

"It's really nice to see everyone get together for once," Landyn Toney added.

Orange shirt day isn't new. But it has new meaning after hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered at the sites of former residential schools across the country.

A search in Shubenacadie found nothing but wounds still run deep.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, thousands of Indigenous youth from across the Maritimes were plucked from their families and forced to go there.

There was abuse, neglect and death.

"No one understands what a survivor went through, they only could guess," said Clark Paul, a Shubenacadie residential school survivor.

Parks Canada recognized Shubenacadie as a national historic site last year.

On Thursday, a plaque to commemorate it was unveiled.

"We're gathering here today to talk about what we went through, what we can do amongst each others to heal," said Paul.

And across the province, there were signs of solidarity - from flags over Halifax bridges to tulips planted in Masstown.

Orange shirts dotted the Halifax waterfront as crowds commemorated.

"To see all of the people out here today is very moving. We're asking people to think about the past and the present and the future," said Pam Glode-Desrochers of the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre.

"Really take a look and understand where we've come from, to where we are and where we want to go and people want to go that together."

A National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was one of the 94 calls of the truth and reconciliation commission published in 2015.

While Thursday marked an important first step, a good next step is for Ottawa to not appeal a federal court decision made Wednesday that ruled in favour of compensation for First Nations children who suffered discrimination by the state.

Meanwhile, in Moncton, the day was honoured with a ceremony in front of city hall.

Speakers included members of local First Nations who spoke of what people can do to honour the Indigenous lives lost throughout history.

First Nation Elder Donna Augustine performed a traditional smudging ceremony for a crowd of nearly 200 people.

Augustine stressed the importance of remembering the country's dark past and sharing it with younger generations.

"They need to know, and then they can decide what they will do with it. As they find out, and as they get older, they will become the decision-makers and maybe the leaders, to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again," said Augustine.

Two minutes and 15 seconds of silence were also held in Moncton to honour the 215 children found at a former residential school in B.C.

In Cape Breton, there were speeches tears and music at a ceremony in Membertou.

Drumming by Sons of Membertou welcomed the crowd to the Heritage Park, marking this first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The First Nations community is one of several on the island holding ceremonies.

People heard from residential school survivors, including Shirley Christmas, who attended the school in Shubenacadie.

"We tried to heal ourselves. I try my best to heal myself, but I'm struggling. Since the residential school, I've been struggling my whole life. I'm struggling to find out where I belong," said Christmas.

A walk is also just getting underway in the community and will march through the streets of Membertou.