Sheila Piercey’s gift to Dalhousie’s Performing Arts Campaign will support students while honouring her former voice instructors.

At the age of five, Sheila Piercey made her singing debut. Coached by her late mother, Lilian Piercey, Sheila came from a home filled with music. She spent her formative years in Nova Scotia, but went on to an accomplished singing career with the Canadian Opera Company (COC). She toured with the COC for 13 years, but never lost her connection to Dalhousie and desire to give back to young artists in Atlantic Canada.

Budding Career

Sheila Piercy as Lauretta (alongside John Arab) in a performance of Gianni Schicchi in 1957 at the Banff Centre. (Photo provided.)

As a student, Sheila was actively involved in student life at Dalhousie from 1951 to 1954. She played on numerous sports teams, was a cheerleader and performed in multiple productions with the Dalhousie University Glee and Dramatic Society and the King’s College Dramatic and Choral Society.

Even though Sheila immersed herself in extracurricular activities while in school, her true calling was on the stage. By the age of 23, she had already made her operatic debut and established a name for herself in Halifax before moving to Toronto. In 1957, Sheila joined the Canadian Opera Company and became a mainstay of the company, performing 22 different roles in 16 COC tours. During her touring days, she also performed at The Banff Centre, Stratford Festival, Rainbow Stage and the Charlottetown Festival.

Returning to Dal

In 1977, Sheila returned to Dal as a part-time voice instructor in the Department of Music, and an assistant stage director for the Opera Workshop. While teaching, she continued to perform in faculty concerts and with the Symphony Nova Scotia.

“Because of Sheila’s early career in the field, we steered the students who had a penchant for musical theatre to her,” says Walter Kemp, former Chair of the Department of Music and longtime friend of Sheila’s. “They loved her not only because of her empathy for the idiom and skill in passing on her own solid training but also for the care and affection she harboured for each one of them.”

Supporting the Performing Arts Campaign

Sheila Piercy during her days as an iconic opera performer. (Photo provided.)

When making her gift to the Performing Arts Campaign, Sheila wanted to pay tribute to her mentors while at the same time ensuring students have modern spaces to practice and rehearse. Her generous gift of $1.5 million to the campaign honours some of her most cherished mentors through the naming of the Ernesto Vinci Studio and Leonard and Doris Mayoh Studio. A third studio, the Sheila K. Piercey Rehearsal Studio, will provide a professional rehearsal space for students to stretch and challenge their creativity, and a new award will support faculty and teaching staff to advance their research and professional development

This gift continues her family’s legacy of supporting the arts in Halifax. Sheila’s father was a savvy businessman who instilled the importance of giving back. Her mother was one of the largest contributors to the restoration of the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts to its original grandeur. Lilian’s contribution is recognized to this day through the Lilian Piercey Concert Hall.

“The contributions that Sheila has made to the performing arts as an artist, instructor and philanthropist are remarkable,” says Jacqueline Warwick, director of the Fountain School of Performing Arts. “We are grateful to have Sheila as a friend of the Fountain School.”