We did a tour with MyQueenstown Heritage Trail to explore historical sights around Queenstown and Tanglin Halt in July last year and it was a very educational and eye-opening experience to see how Queenstown had developed over the years since Singapore’s independence. If you like heritage tours, that is definitely a tour not to be missed – it is free and you get to interact with actual Queenstown residents who has stayed in the area for a long time. That tour runs every last Sunday of the month and you can sign up through www.myqueenstown.eventbrite.sg or email: [email protected]
I was glad to hear that they are now organising another Queenstown heritage trail – this time with a focus on the Dawson and Alexandra area – this tour is available on the last Saturday of the month. I strongly recommend you bring an umbrella, insect repellent, water bottle and wear shoes that are suitable for thick vegetation – you will find out why as you read on below.
During our earlier tour last year to Queenstown and Tanglin Halt, we had to stand close to the tour guides to hear his explanation of each historical sights – now tour groups are issued with portable wireless audio guides so you can roam about the site and still hear what the tour guide is saying (don’t go too far out of range of course :-))
I will just talk about a few key highlights of the tour and leave it to you to sign up and explore the rest of the trail with the very helpful and friendly tour guides of these MyQueenstown heritage trails. One of the first few stops is to Forfar Heights – here you can see how the public housing landscape had changed over the years – the former Forfar House (circled in the picture below) was once Singapore’s tallest public residential building and it was known as Chap Si Lau (14th Floor in Hokkien) because of that reputation. Now it has been demolished to make way for the 30 to 40 storey Forfar Heights cluster.
Princess House is another iconic historical building not far from Forfar Heights – it was an office building for various government agencies. One of our tour members even shared his experience working in Princess House and doing shopping at a co-op in the area – see the uncle in the picture below (he is not our tour guide but is very willing to share his stories).
After Princess House (the sequence of the tour may be different), we were guided on foot to Kay Siang Road but along the way we spotted this abandoned track and field with spectator stands. This used to be the grounds of Hua Yi school but with redevelopments in the area, the school was demolished to make way for new housing estates in the area.
Another one of our tour group members sharing his experience during his younger days around this Hua Yi school track and field – apparently, this is his favorite place to paktor (go out on a date) with his then-girlfriend (now wife) because the area is quiet and secluded.
I think for many, the highlight for this tour has to be the Bunkers along Kay Siang Road – this is the reason why it is recommended that you bring insect repellent, water bottle and wear shoes that are suitable for thick vegetation. You will need to bash through the thick vegetation to reach the bunkers. The ground is uneven with slippery slopes, fallen branches but thankfully, the MyQueenstown tour organisers and volunteers have worked hard to make this short journey to the bunkers bearable for all ages – there are ropes tied up at the more dangerous areas for tour participants to grab hold of for balance.
As you walk further into the thick vegetation (about 5 minutes walk), you will see an abandoned house completely taken over by vegetation and the roots and branches of trees completely engulfing it.
Then as you go deeper into the vegetation, you will see the bunkers of Kay Siang Road – the tour guide said there are three bunkers but we only went to one due to time constraints.
There is nothing left inside these bunkers – the tour guides were saying that this could be an abandoned World War II ammo supply depot but no one really knows for sure.
After the bunker tour, we were led to Tiong Ghee Temple where we heard stories of an ex-resident of the area about Boh Beh Kang and what life was back then here.
After which, we were led to Block 168A – the famuse Butterfly Block. Here we hear from retiree Paul Fernandez, 74, 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. He remembers the Rumah Bomba roundabout located at the junction of Queensway and Alexandra Road, where there were rows of itinerant hawkers selling an extensive assortment of local food such as satay, mee rebus, fried kway teow and Indian rojak. Fire fighters from Alexandra Fire Station and military personnel from the nearby Gilman Barracks would frequent the food stalls after work. He also recalled how the colloquial name for his block came about, “The design for Block 168A is extremely unique because it is shaped like the wings of a butterfly. Hence, residents started calling it the ‘Butterfly Block’ and the colloquial name became known locally.”
Paul Fernandez’s recollection of his memories at Queensway is one of the key highlights of the free, guided tour of Singapore’s first satellite estate. Organised by civic groups, My Community, The Other Sites of Singapore and supported by the National Heritage Board and Queenstown Citizens’ Consultative Committee, the Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail uncovers the colourful stories of generations of residents who lived, worked and played in the estate.
We then ended our tour at Alexandra Hospital – a site of one of the most cruel World War II massacres by Japanese soldiers.
We were shown two tunnel entrances at the grounds of Alexandra Hospital – no one knows where these tunnels lead to – they are not open for public exploration at the moment.
In summary, tour participants can look forward to many impressive landmarks such as Alexandra Hospital, Princess House, the former Archipelago Brewery Company, the first HDB Point Blocks and bunkers along Kay Siang Road. Expect a lot of walking – this tour covers quite a distance all the way from the starting point at Queenstown MRT to Alexandra Hospital (near Queensway and IKEA).
Approximate duration: 3 hours (9am to 12pm). Please arrive at Queenstown MRT Station 10 minutes before 9am. The trail guides will be wearing yellow T-shirts with the distinctive CROWN logo.
This trail may be ticketed at about $2-$5 in the near future so sign up for it now since it is free! But the tour is always sold out so do check out their facebook for the latest tour updates.
- Wear comfortable clothes (preferably long pants) and shoes.
- Bring along insect repellent, EZ-Link card, a bottle of water and an umbrella
- Asthmatic patients are encouraged to bring their inhaler
Guided tours will be cancelled in the event of heavy rain. You will be informed by email or SMS. Guided tours will continue in the event of light rain.
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, which takes place on the last Saturday of every month, through www.myqueenstown.eventbrite.sg, [email protected] or call Queenstown Community Centre at 64741681.