09/10/2013 02:10 EDT | Updated 11/10/2013 05:12 EST

UBC suspends classes for one day to mark national Truth Commission event

VANCOUVER - The University of British Columbia is making it easy for all students and staff to take part in an upcoming event organized by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

UBC is suspending almost all classes on Sept. 18 to encourage participation in day-long events at the Pacific National Exhibition, and in a number of locations on the Vancouver campus.

The commission is gathering testimony from survivors of the First Nation residential school system that operated for 120 years across Canada, finally ending in 1996.

Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to schools where many were subject to emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

UBC president Stephen Toope says the rare suspension of classes advances the university's efforts to end the silence surrounding the residential school system, and also supports UBC's efforts to play a leading role in the reconciliation movement.

Events at the PNE begin at 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 18, with the lighting of a sacred fire and a sunrise ceremony, while related exhibitions will be held across the UBC campus, including at the Museum of Anthropology and the Belkin Art Gallery.