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Portia White exhibit comes to the Colchester Historeum


TRURO, N.S. —

Sheila White remembers her Aunt Portia as someone who listened to her, brought thoughtful gifts and took part in family sing-a-longs.
She also has a lot of information on her aunt’s musical career, and much of it will be available to the public while the Portia White exhibit is on display at the Colchester Historeum.
“I want to share this with people and it makes sense to do this here, at her birthplace,” said Sheila, who lives in Toronto and came to Truro to set up the exhibit.
The exhibit has only been available once before, when it was set up in Toronto last year. It includes concert programs, photos, posters, books, personal items, music and a slideshow. Sheila remembers one of the books, The Book of American Negro Spirituals, as being Portia’s favourite.
“She would visit us on special occasions and I have recordings of family conversations,” said Sheila. “I remember her singing with her brothers and sisters in the living room.
“She had a great sense of humour and loved to laugh. She was very articulate and totally engaged with you as a person. When you were talking to her, you felt she was really listening, even though you were a child. She was thoughtful and would bring nice little presents, and she was a great cook and well read. 
 “She was just our aunt around us, not the great singer.”
Sheila was 13 when her aunt died, but she remembers her as an idea person who, during the 1960S, brought up the concept of a business that would deliver meals to homes.
Portia began singing in a church choir when she was six, and when she turned eight she was a soloist. She became a teacher but continued to take singing lessons. After recitals in Nova Scotia, she performed at Toronto’s Eaton Auditorium in 1941, at the age of 30. In 1944, she became the first Canadian to have a recital at New York’s Town Hall.
She performed around the world until 1952, when she returned to teach singing in Toronto. Her students included Robert Goulet, Lorne Greene and Dinah Christie.
“She had her heart broken by a man who abandoned her and gave up a child when she was 23,” said Sheila. “She once said she had deep, unexplained sadness. I think she channeled it into her music because it would sometimes make people cry.”
Sheila is also musical and works as the music director at Don Heights Unitarian Church, in Toronto.
The Portia White exhibit will be on display May 11 to Oct. 11. A special opening will be held on Saturday, May 11 at 2 p.m. The historeum is offering free admission for the day.
 

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