James Butler White DFC was born on Manitoulin Island, Ontario (ON), son of James B. White and wife K.M. White, both of Manitoulin Island. He was educated at Highfield College, Hamilton ON. Prior to WW1, White had worked with the Civil Engineering department of the Canadian Pacific Railway in western Canada and with the Standard Bank in Vancouver, British Columbia.

On September 10, 1916, White was appointed to the rank of sub lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). On February 17 1917 he was appointed Probationary Flight Sub Lieutenant, which likely means that he had graduated as an aircraft pilot. On September 29 he was posted to No. 8 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). By April 1918, Captain White had destroyed 8 enemy aircraft and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his feat. On April 3rd, White was repatriated to Canada.

After returning from overseas, White joined Canada Permanent Mortgage Corporation. In 1924, he founded his own brokerage firm, in Toronto ON, J.B. White & Co. stockbrokers, in which he was the senior partner. From 1945 to 1947, White was President of the Toronto Stock Exchange.

In May 1922, White married Eleanor M. Gooderham, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W.G. Gooderham of Toronto. They had 3 sons; James Butler White Jr., Robert W.G. White and David B. White.