I was invited on Saturday April 4, 2015 to the launch of the Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tours which is part 2 of a series of the guided walks of the My Queenstown Heritage Trail, walks that are specially curated by researchers and volunteers of the civic society group, My Community. The last one I attended was the Tanglin Halt and Duchess Trail which was launched in July 27, 2014 and i truly enjoyed myself and pen down my thoughts about it in two blog articles:Queenstown Heritage Trail - A walk down memory lane (Part I)
Queenstown Heritage Trail - A walk down memory lane (Part II)
Dawson and Alexandra Heritage TourThe meeting point was Queenstown MRT Station and Mr. Kwek Li Yong (President of My Communty) welcomed us and for practical crowd control reasons, broke us into two groups which were then led by volunteers, Choo Lip Sin and Huang Eu Chai. I tagged along with Eu Chai, but in a number of stops, both groups converge to listen to the stories of the residents. Like the last tour i attended, we started our tours at 9 am armed with a lovely do-it-yourself walking booklet that provided beautiful imagery and detailed explanation of the various iconic landmarks. However, what was different this time around was each of us was provided with a radio receiver and a ear piece providing a better listening experience. When utilised, our guide Eu Chai can speak through his microphone piece and i could hear every word he says using this device, despite the noise of road traffic. It allowed me to take more pictures and explore while still paying attention. What a neat device and a big difference it makes it enhancing the overall tour experience !
|Handy booklet and radio receiver
Former Forfar HouseOur first stop is the Forfar Heights, where in the past the former Forfar house was once the tallest public residential building at 14 storeys (hence known to the locals in hokkien as 十四楼. Officially opened in 1956 by the Singapore Improvement Trust ( SIT ), the British colonial agency in charge of housing and the predecessor to the Housing Development Board (HDB). Architecture wise, it was design in a modern zigzag style blocks and comprised of 106 apartments. Of interest is the word Forfar and its meaning. Forfar is a town close to Glamis Castle, ancestral home of Queen Elizabeth and where his sister, the late Princess Margaret was born. To the locals back then, this blocks hold a dark tale of after the former Forfar house was opened, it became a well known place to commit suicide.
|The former Forfar, 14th storey and zigzag features and the building that replaced it
(Former Forfar picture from National Archives)
|Forfar's dark past
Princess HouseOne of the flats within the vicinity of the Queenstown that remained relatively untouched in the rapid redevelopment of this area is the Princess House, a 7-storey flat along Alexandra Road named after Princess Margaret and which was designated as the offices for the Singapore Improvement Trust ( SIT) but became the headquarters offices for the Housing Development Board after Singapore gained self-Independence. Later in 1972, it housed the Ministry of Health and later for Ministry of Environment. To the locals in 1973, it was the place to go to get their hawker license or for it to be renewed.
|When it was under Ministry of Environment and today
|Mr. Lim Kim San with Prince Phillip on the top floor of Princess House
in 1965 when building was the headquarters for the HDB
Hock Lee Bus Terminus and the Hock Lee Bus Riot.Our next stop we reminiscent about another incident that took place in 1955 along what is now Alexandra Road at the junction of Dawson Road, what was once the Hock Lee Bus Terminus. Workers of the Hock Lee Amalgamated Bus Company went on strike from 25 April 1955 seeking more pay and better working conditions. The were joined by supporters and Chinese middle school students, disrupting bus services. Things eventually went south and the aftermath of the violent confrontation was 4 deaths and numerous injuries.You can read more about this incident from various sources such as infopedia and wikipedia.
|Location of Hock Lee Bus Terminal
|Hock Lee Bus Riot
Alexandra Canal Linear ParkWe came to a spot where our guide Eu Chai, shared that the Alexandra canal was exposed and the water flow from Alexandra Canal towards the Singapore river. Of course, the canal still exist but it is now a covered one and that we are standing right on top of it.
Princess Estate and public housing of the futureWe arrived at the road where once Margaret Drive merges with Dawson and swings to Kay Siang. The changes came about as a result of the building of Skyville@Dawson, an Housing Development Board project. In the 1958 Street Directory, you can see the Forfar House been mentioned and also visible is the Princess Circus and an unexposed Alexandra Canal and a Margaret Road that is slowly taking shape. We are at the heart of Princess Estate. It was formerly a military camp called Buller Camp and surrounding village area before the Singapore Improvement Trust ( SIT ) took over and constructed its flats between 1952 and 1959.
|New houses in Buller Camp, before it was renamed Princess Estate
|1958 Street Directory
|Our route (source: Onemap)
|Skyville@Dawson - HDB Public Housing
|Old temporary bus stop
|Margaret Drive (from the direction of Tanglin Road)
Bunkers of Buller CampOur next stop was my favorite stop of the entire heritage tour. It involves a climb into a forested area along Kay Siang Road where we were shown two buildings, one had a Banyan Tree slow enveloping it and the other, a building built into the hill which we were told was an ammunition storage bunker.
|A building that looks like the temples enveloped by jungle in Siem Reap
|A suspected bunker of Buller Camp
|Jurong Brick Works Brick
|Metal Water Bottle that looks quite closely to the one
issued by the British Army(found nearby)
Kay Siang Road, where the bunkers lie hold significance as well as it close to Wee Kay Siang's house Ben Venue as seen in the 1924 map of Alevandra Road area.
|Origins of Kay Siang Road
(Municipal Map of Singapore 1924)
Look for my next post where i continue exploring and sharing what i learned from the Dawson and Alexandra Tour as we visit more landmarks. Continued here >>> Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour (My Queenstown Heritage Trail) -Part II
How to sign up
The Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour is part of the My Queenstown Heritage Trail series and the trail is opened to the public and interested participants can register for the free, guided tour through www.myqueenstown.eventbrite.sg or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Community Tours (updated on 14 Jan 2017)
(correct as of 10 January 2017)
My Community Tours (updated on 14 Jan 2017)
Commonwealth & Holland
Village heritage tour
Every third Sunday
sg or email
Labrador & Alexandra
Every 2nd and 4th
Tanglin Halt & Margaret Drive heritage tour
Every 2nd and 4th