In my last word tasting I sampled brae, a name I’ve known on some neighbourhoods that I have heard of but seldom visited and never lived in. It’s one of the loose allsorts of suburb-name morphemes that float above the involuted streets on maps of the sprawling suburbs in the Great White North: wood, cliff, cedar, side, bine, land, thorn, lea, crest, vale, ridge, maple, oak, glen, bank, fair, field, gate, ville, dale, park, mead, view, bay, green, hurst, may, mount, summer, sunny, land, spring, spruce, hill, valley, grove (I forgot those last five last time)… Pick two, almost any two, and you get a subdivision somewhere (or at the very least a street): Cedarlea, Woodvale, Oakmead, Hillhurst, Sunnyside, Glencrest, Mapleview, Fairmount, Valleyvale… Is Valleyvale redundant? Well, so is Hillhurst.
And there’s another one of those widgets that I’ve long been familiar with: hurst. I know it well from northwest Calgary: Hillhurst-Sunnyside and West Hillhurst are both just north of the Bow River west of downtown. West Hillhurst has a personal connection because my brother and his family lived there nearly 20 years ago. Unlike the newer suburbs of Calgary, West Hillhurst has its streets in a grid – and most of them are numbered, not named. But its main drag is Kensington Road, and between that and the river there are Westmount Road, Bowness Road, and Broadview Road.
I should say that although Calgary is an hour’s drive from real mountains and is draped over several hills that are bigger than what people in some other places (*cough* Ontario *cough*) call mountains, there is no mount at or under Westmount Road. It’s barely above the river and it’s nearly flat. Broadview Road, for its part, is even closer to the river and is lined by trees, and so – unlike many places in Calgary – does not have a broad view. And while there are hursts in Calgary, it’s more than a bit of a stretch to say Hillhurst has any.
So. What the heck is a hurst?
Does it thrust? Does it thirst? Please don’t tell me it hurts.
It does not hurt. But it does thrust, a bit: it’s a hillock, a hill, an eminence, perhaps a wooded one. And it may thirst: it’s typically sandy. It may even be a sandbank. Also, it can be a copse, a thicket, a grove (pause while I go back and add grove to the list up there), and we know those trees thirst. Often it’s surrounded by marshland. So there are a few possible hursts in Calgary; Prince’s Island might be one. But Hillhurst? Hmmm…
Also, hill hurst? I said it’s redundant, but it’s not that the two are exact synonyms. Hillhurst is like Rivercreek or Marshpond or Braecliff or Meadowlea (all of which are real names in use, though more often as two words – but MeadowLea is an Australian brand of margarine). But, hey, when you’re reaching into the subdivision Scrabble bag, anything’s a go, especially when one of the parts, like hurst, is now mostly recognized as just “part of a neighbourhood name.”