It is Canada History Week and this year the theme is The History of Black Achievement in Canada.
This is the story of Portia White, one of Canada's greatest concert singers.
Portia White was born on June 24, 1911 in Truro, Nova Scotia. As a teenager, she competed in singing competitions and emerged as one of the most gifted singers of her generation.
Working as a teacher in her adult life, she practiced singing in her spare time. In 1935, 1937 and 1938 she won the Helen Kennedy Silver Cup at the Halifax Music Festival. The festival organizers eventually just gave her the award permanently.
In 1939, she began training with Ernesto Vinci at the Halifax Conservatory of Music who helped expand her vocal range. Under Ernesto’s tutelage he began to instruct her to sing deeper, where he felt her voice was better suited.
On Nov. 7, 1941, she made her national debut as a singer at the Eaton Auditorium in Toronto.
On Jan. 29, 1943, Portia White gave her first concert in Ottawa, wowing critics impressed by her voice.
In 1944, the Nova Scotia Talent Trust was created to enable Portia to focus on her career.
This trust allowed Portia to focus completely on singing, while giving her the funds needed to travel outside of the province and Canada for performances.
They also presented her with a white fox cape for her performances.
On March 13, 1944, she became the first Canadian to perform at New York’s Town Hall.
She would go on to perform twice more at the venue, in 1944 and again in 1945.
In 1945, Portia signed with Columbia Concerts, the largest artist agency in North America.
They booked her in venues throughout North, South and Central America.
The touring schedule was too strenuous, and she was not giving herself time to recover between performances.
After some rest, she toured the Maritimes, Switzerland, and France in 1948 but needed surgery after to deal with ongoing vocal problems.
The 1948 tour would be her last major performance. To make things worse, she was battling cancer.
In 1952, she moved to Toronto and became a vocal teacher, among her students were Lorne Greene and Robert Goulet.
On Oct. 6, 1964, she performed for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, at the Charlottetown Confederation Centre of the Arts in Prince Edward Island.
In July 1967, at the World Baptist Federation in Ottawa, Portia gave her final public performance.
Portia White died of breast cancer on Feb. 13, 1968.
via Craig Baird