“That Was Then, This Is Now” explores the beginnings of some of Canada’s favourite writers and journalists

“In Grade 12, my English teacher came to me and said The Sault Star was putting together something called the Teen Page,” says the Toronto Star’s award-winning investigative reporter Dale Brazao, remembering his first experience in journalism. Every Friday, the paper would dedicate one page to the four high schools in Sault Ste. Marie. Brazao’s teacher told him he had “the gift of storytelling” and urged him to apply. “So I volunteered, and I became the teen writer for [my school] in The Sault Star every Friday,” he recalls.

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The paper’s teen writers would often report on a school dance or sporting event, but Brazao had other ideas: his first story was about a local all-girls high school that was expelling students for smoking on school property. “I teamed up with a photographer from The Sault Star and we went down the laneway behind the school and took a picture,” he remembers, “and I interviewed all these girls in Catholic school uniforms, lined up against the fence, puffing away and passing the butt down the line.” While everyone else was reporting on Sadie Hawkins dances and broken pipes in their school cafeterias, Dale was writing about girls who were facing expulsion for smoking on their lunch breaks. “When [the story] came out that weekend with the headline and the byline that said, ‘Dale Brazao, Teen Writer,’ it felt good…. So I did that for the rest of the year.”

Before The Sault Star’s Teen Page, Brazao had never written anything beside English papers. When he asked his guidance counselor what journalism was all about, he was told he should apply to Carleton University. His acceptance letter came soon after.

At the end of his fourth year at Carleton, the Toronto Star came looking for fresh recruits for its summer program. “I started [at the Star] on May 10, 1976, and I’ve been here ever since,” says Brazao. “If it weren’t for that little tryout as a teen writer at The Sault Star, I don’t know where I would have gone.”