National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: What It Means for Canadian Churches

Canada has a new holiday this year. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will be on September 30 every year. How does this new holiday impact Canadian churches? We’ve put together this guide to help answer some questions.

Why is there a new holiday?

In 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada published their final report including 94 calls to action. One of those calls to action states:

We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.

Bill C-5 was first introduced in September 2020, to add the holiday to the Canada Labour Code. Following the discovery of tremendous numbers of unmarked graves at residential school sites in early 2021, the House of Commons and Senate swiftly passed the bill. This September 30th, 2021, Canadians will commemorate Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a federal statutory holiday. September 30 was observed as Orange Shirt Day in past years.

Is this a holiday for church staff?

It depends on your church. Church staff are entitled to whatever provisions are made for statutory holidays in your church’s employee handbook.

September 30 has now been added to the list of statutory holidays for federally regulated employers under the Canada Labour Code. People who work for the federal government or in workplaces like airports, banks, or the post office will be entitled to have the day off or receive holiday pay if they work. If your church has decided to follow federal holidays, then Sept 30 will be a holiday for them.

The majority of provinces have not made Sept 30 a provincial holiday, with Nova Scotia being the exception. If your church has decided to follow provincial holidays, we’ve put together this handy list for you (we will be updating this, as not all provinces and territories have announced their decisions).

Is Sept 30 a provincial holiday?

  • British Columbia – No (Source: BC Gov)
  • Alberta – No (Source: CBC News)
  • Saskatchewan – No (Source: CBC News)
  • Manitoba – No, but schools, non-essential government services & offices closed (Sources: CBC News and Manitoba Gov)
  • Ontario – No (Source: CBC News)
  • Quebec – No (Source: CTV News)
  • Newfoundland – Yes (Source: NL Gov)
  • New Brunswick – No (Source: CBC News)
  • Nova Scotia – Yes (Source: CBC News)
  • Prince Edward Island – Yes (Source: CBC News)
  • Yukon Territory – Yes (Source: Yukon Gov)
  • Northwest Territories – Yes (Source: NWT Gov)
  • Nunavut – Not Announced (the government website’s public service holidays list does not include it)


To make matters more complicated, some municipalities, like the City of Moncton, have voted to make Sept 30 a statutory holiday. We haven’t included an entire list here, but if your church follows municipal holidays, check what they have decided.

In addition, private companies and organizations, like churches, can decide if they want to honour optional or unofficial holidays.

How can our church engage in reconciliation work?

2021 has been a wake-up call for many Canadian Christians who weren’t already aware of the church’s role in the history of Indian Residential Schools. Many are stunned and heartbroken and aren’t sure what to do.

For churches wanting to participate in the work of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada, some Canadian denominations have begun assembling resources for their members, and some are noted below. It will take time, patience, and grace, and Canadian churches have a necessary role to play in reconciliation.

Ideas for Churches to Participate in Reconciliation Work:

  • Have staff wear an orange shirt. Many Canadians have observed September 30th as orange shirt day since 2012, which is why this date was chosen for the holiday. (Encourage staff to purchase their orange shirts from Indigenous organizations and retailers to prevent people callously profiting from this tragedy)
  • Write a land acknowledgement for your website or to deliver one orally during your services
  • Learn about Indigenous history in this country and acknowledge Indigenous. Consider bringing in an Indigenous storyteller to educate your congregation
  • Organize a Blanket Exercise to help your congregation learn together. Scripts for blanket exercises can be found online for free. This is a deeply meaningful interactive teaching tool being utilized across Canada to tell the story of Canadian history through the eyes of Indigenous people
  • Become familiar with The Truth and Reconciliation report and pay particular attention to actions 58 through 61 (Church apologies and reconciliation)
  • Read from the newly released First Nations Version which is a Bible translation that “recounts the Creator’s Story - the Christian Scriptures - following the traditions of Native storytellers oral cultures”




However your church decides to commemorate the holiday, ensure that you do so in consultation with Indigenous resources including books, speakers, spiritual leaders, and organizations, as much as possible.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and reflects the opinion of the author. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on as professional advice. You should consult appropriate professionals for your specific situation.

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