The Roosting Box: Rebuilding the Body After the First World War by Kristen den Hartog

In the first World War, 172,000 Canadian soldiers were injured. A trickle that began in 1915 turned to a flood of soldiers returning to Canada needing care for their often-devastating injuries: missing limbs, ravaged lungs, faces and minds destroyed. Many of them ended up at Toronto’s newly opened Christie Street hospital, also known as the Dominion Orthopedic Hospital (DOH). A former cash register factory turned into a state-of-the-art medical facility; some spent the rest of their lives within its walls — or, as it turns out, on its roof. The Roosting Box by Kristen den Hartog tells the varied stories of the patients, doctors, nurses and other medical staff who lived, worked and loved within the DOH following the so-called Great War.

“A hospital … is like a roosting box: a communal space that provides ideal but temporary shelter for [the] vulnerable.”

The Roosting Box by Kristen den Hartog

Den Hartog’s book purports to be about the healing of various injuries soldiers sustained in the fighting in Europe, but it is a far deeper story, or series of stories, to be exact. Divided into chapters named for body parts commonly treated at DOH, it details not just what the men went through to heal, but their personal chronicles as well: how they got to the front, the families they left behind, and how they survived — or didn’t — the traumas they experienced. It is the history of the medical staff who traveled to the war front and came home to continue their care for these men. It is a story of love found in the unlikeliest of places — that rooftop again! — and love lost to the ravages of the war. This book delves into the lives of flesh and blood men, ones who sacrificed much, if not everything, in their service to King and country, a personal look at lives forever changed. And scattered throughout the book are words from men who knew that sacrifice. Den Hartog deftly weaves in lines from war poets — none of whom survived the war — to breathe life and authenticity into her own graceful and expressive prose. Truly this is a lyrical work of literary non-fiction; it is obvious why den Hartog is an award-winning novelist. She has also presented here a work of methodical and detailed research – her notes and list of sources is as extensive as it is impressive — an authoritative work about a little-known piece of Canadian history.

Truly this is a lyrical work of literary non-fiction; it is obvious why den Hartog is an award-winning novelist.

Kristen den Hartog is a decorated novelist and non-fiction writer. Her books have won an Alberta Book Publishing Award and been nominated for both a Trillium Award and the City of Toronto Book Award.

Publisher: Goose Lane Editions (February 20, 2024)
Paperback 6″ x 8.9″ | 280 pages
ISBN: 9781773103266

Heather McBriarty is an author, lecturer and Medical Radiation Technologist based in Saint John, NB. Her love of reading and books began early in life, as did her love of writing, but it was the discovery of old family correspondence that led to her first non-fiction book, Somewhere in Flanders: Letters from the Front,and a passion for the First World War. She has delivered lectures to the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, NB Genealogy Society, and Western Front Association (Central Ontario Branch), among others, on the war. Heather’s first novel of the “Great War”, Amid the Splintered Trees, was launched in November 2021.