MEMBERTOU FIRST NATION, N.S. -- Wednesday was Orange Shirt Day across Canada -- a solemn reminder of the country's dark history with residential schools.

Across the country, orange served as a symbol of solidarity, particularly in schools.

Jeff Ward of Cape Breton's Membertou First Nation led a presentation at a Sydney middle school. He says the students had many questions.

"Like when did it start? When was the first residential school? And how long?" Ward said.  "People don't understand that it was 126 years."

What's shocking to many is how recent it all was. The country's last residential school closed less than 25 five years ago.

Orange Shirt Day has existed since 2013 to honour victims and survivors.

The colour pays tribute to a piece of orange clothing one First Nations girl in British Columbia had taken away from her on her first day at a residential school in 1973.

"The damage it caused, and the things that happened to our people -- to my mom, to my uncles, to my aunt, to my grandparents," Ward said.

One Mi'kmaw man from the Millbrook First Nation uses his own clothing brand to support the cause.

Derek Lewis printed hundreds of shirts this year. When interviewed Wednesday on CTV Morning Live, he had only one shirt left.

"The hand really represents not only grabbing the shirt, but the grabbing of children," Lewis said. "And it speaks to the larger, broader issue of Indigenous people."

And now, there's a push by the federal government to make the day a statutory holiday -- an idea that Lewis supports.

"We've seen this happen throughout history, this does repeat itself," Lewis said. "So we need to make sure that we never forget the Indian residential school system."

What made Orange Shirt Day particularly poignant in Nova Scotia this time around is that it comes a day after the province apologized to its Black and Indigenous people for systemic racism in the justice system.

"By the premier doing that apology, you're going to see a big change in all society, in all of Nova Scotia," Ward said. "And we need to hear that apology, to start the healing."