Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour (My Queenstown Heritage Trail) -Part I

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 Tour

The 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 !

Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour (Queenstown Heritage Trail)
Handy booklet and radio receiver

Former Forfar House

Our 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.
Forfar House (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
The former Forfar, 14th storey and zigzag features and the building that replaced it
(Former Forfar picture from National Archives) 
Forfar House (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
Forfar's dark past 

Princess House

One 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.
Princess House (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
When it was under Ministry of Environment and today 
Princess House (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
Mr. Lim Kim San with Prince Phillip on the top floor of Princess House
in 1965 when building was the headquarters for the HDB  
The picture above shoes Prince Phillip (husband of Queen Elizabeth) on the rooftop of Princess House in 1965 with Lim Kim San who led the Housing Development Board in the building of many public flats in its early growth years. Both can be seen surveying the Queenstown landscape that has since changed with the exception of Princess House of course !

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.
Hock Lee Bus Riots (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
Location of Hock Lee Bus Terminal 
Hock Lee Bus Riots (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
Hock Lee Bus Riot 

Alexandra Canal Linear Park 

We 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.

Alexandra Canal (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
Alexandra Canal 

Princess Estate and public housing of the future

We 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.
Princess Estate (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
New houses in Buller Camp, before it was renamed Princess Estate 

1958 Street Directory (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
1958 Street Directory
One map 2015 (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
Our route (source: Onemap)
Today, the place is yet again transformed and true to the ethos of experimenting with forward looking public housing, the Princess Estate where Dawson is located will soon open it doors to a new series of private built public housing that changes yet again the perception of how public housing should look like.
Skyville@Dawson - HDB Public Housing

Old temporary bus stop 
Margaret Drive (from the direction of Tanglin Road)

Bunkers of Buller Camp

Our 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.
Buller Camp (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
A building that looks like the temples enveloped by jungle in Siem Reap
Buller Camp (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
A suspected bunker of Buller Camp 
Buller Camp (Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Tour )
Jurong Brick Works Brick 
Metal Water Bottle that looks quite closely to the one
issued by the British Army(found nearby)
The exact usage of it remains still a mystery waiting to be resolved, as currently all this are based on oral accounts of what probably the building in the woodland what used for. Just next door is a track and field that used to belong to the schools around the area. Maybe with more funding, an archaeological survey to find out artifacts around the area.

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 myqueenstown@gmail.com.

My Community Tours (updated on 14 Jan 2017)

Commonwealth & Holland
Village heritage tour

Every third Sunday

sg or email

Labrador & Alexandra
heritage tour

Every 2nd and 4th

Tanglin Halt & Margaret Drive heritage tour

Every 2nd and 4th

(correct as of 10 January 2017)



Show more