Spent last Saturday differently with some girlfriends as we set to explore the Dawson and Alexandra neighbourhoods in Queenstown on their new free guided heritage tour.
Here’s sharing some bits of our tour:
The former Forfar House was built in 1956 on the former Buller Camp, one of the military camps vacated to construct Princess Magaret Estate (present day Dawson Estate), which was Queenstown’s first neighbourhood. Forfar House was the tallest residential building at 14-storeys. Hence the colloquial name “Chap Si Lau” (Hokkien: 十四楼; Fourteen Storey). Because it was the tallest residential building then, it was also a “popular” place for suicides as well.
Princess House follows the aesthetics of 1950s modern architecture with its simple design and economic use of materials and decoration. It was the first dedicated headquarters of HDB, hence used to host foreign dignitaries such as Prince Philip and Princess Margaret.
In 1972 Ministry of Environment took over the premise and an adjacent 4-storey complex. People used to form long queues then to get hawker licenses here.
In 2007, Princess House was gazette for conservation.
As we walked to the junction of Alexandra and Dawson Road, the guide shared about the Hock Lee Bus Riots that started at a bus depot located here. This was one of the major riots in Singapore during the 1950s.
Do you know there was a canal in the Strathmore area? It has been covered up by a park!
What is left of the bunkers that were constructed in 1945 to house Japanese prisoners-of-wars after World War II can be found hidden away in a forested area of Kay Siang Road
It is not easily accessible so be prepared with proper footwear to do some trekking. Insect repellant is strongly recommended as well.
The nice organizers have kindly arranged for bus rides post-trek to the next point of the heritage trail at Stirling Road, thankfully!
The Taoist temple, Tiong Ghee Temple was started as an altar located in a villager’s hut in 1931. It was demolished in 1968 when the government acquired the land for the construction of Mei Ling estate. The temple was rebuilt and opened in 1973 at its present site.
En route to the next stop, our guide shared another gem located in this area – Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee which has been around since the 1960s. Coffee lovers would love this place!
Do you know “the Butterfly Block”?
Because of its unique curved shaped façade that resembles the winged insect, Block 168A Queensway is also known as “the Butterfly Block”.
Through the interview with Mr Fernandez who has been living in a four- room flat at the 5th storey of Block 168A Queensway since relocating from a dilapidated wooden hut at Upper Bukit Timah Road 40 years ago, we learned more about the history of this part of Queenstown. Example, Jumbo coffee house which was apparently very popular then in the 1970s was located along Alexandra Road.
We made our way to Queensway Shopping Centre next. It was opened in 1974 and is one of Singapore’s first multi-purpose shopping complexes alongside Golden Mile and Katong. Queensway shopping centre is characterized by its octagonal façade which could be traced to Feng Shui’s 八卦. So yes people, Queensway Shopping Centre is not just known for soccer jerseys and cheaper sports shoes. There is a heritage side to it!
Our last stop of the trail is Alexandra Hospital. The hospital was built in 1938 as the British Military Hospital which served as the principal hospital for Britain’s Far East Command during World War II.
The hospital was the most advanced and best-equipped medical institution in Singapore then. It was chosen for close proximity to KTM railway line so that the wounded could be transported to the hospital quickly. It was here where the largest massacre of British troops in WWII took place – 200 patients and personnel were killed within a short span of 30 minutes.
In the week following Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s demise, I realized how little I know about the history of Singapore. The Heritage Tour has taught me not only more about the history of Queenstown but with the sharing of stories from generations of residents who grew up in this estate, I learned about the history of Singapore and how far we have come as well. Now I wish they do this for all the matured estates in Singapore!
Note: I was invited for the media preview of Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail. Information provided by My Queenstown and My Community.
There is another Tanglin Halt & Duchess Heritage Tour that happens on every last Sunday of the month, for those who are keen!
Read more about the heritage trail we did from: