Who said Singapore had little history?

The latest heritage trail in Singapore recently opened for registrations, and it got the whole town talking! Even my dad was asking me about it the other day. Following the successful launch of the Duchess + Tanglin Halt Guided Tour last year, I was one of the lucky few who attended the Media Preview of the Dawson + Alexandra Guided Tour. The tour is an addition to the My Queenstown Heritage Trail.

The 3-hour educational and intimate journey through Singapore's first satellite town opened my eyes with the little stories behind historical landmarks in the Queenstown neighbourhood that piece up what Singapore is today.

Armed with an audio guide and brochure provided by the My Queenstown team, I was good to go. Here are 11 reasons why I think you should sign up for My Queenstown Heritage Trail, with reference to what you can expect in the Dawson + Alexandra Guided Tour:

1) See Singapore From A Different Perspective

I pass by the mature Queenstown estate often as I'm schooling at the west side of Singapore. I'd always been intrigued by the facades of old buildings that stood out of place in the modern surrounding... Thanks to this tour, I got my curiosity satisfied as I dug deeper into their roots.

Church of the Good Shepherd - 2 Dundee Road

I passed by numerous of significant landmarks in this trail. One of them was the first Anglican Church in Queenstown. The Church of the Good Shepherd opened its doors back in 1960. Due to the huge crowd of Chinese worshippers, services were originally held in Cantonese and Mandarin. It was only from 1963 onwards when they started English speaking services and a youth congregation.

Later in 1972, the Church introduced the Boys' Brigade 9th Singapore Company to bring purposeful activities to the youths. Betcha didn't know that!

Former Forfar House - 48 Strathmore Avenue
As I walked along Dundee Road where the Church of the Good Shepherd is, I saw a 40-storey skyscraper. I learnt that this towering block at Forfar Heights used to stand Singapore's highest public residential building! Also known as Chap Si Lau (Hokkien for 14-storey), the former Forfar House opened in 1956 with 106 apartments and 4 shops.

There used to be a popular Consumers Cooperative Club here. Similar to mini-supermarkets, it was opened only to the Queenstown residents. Essential items were sold at 20-30 cents cheaper than market prices!

2) Listen To Long-Time Residents Recount Their Past

Along the way, I had the privilege to hear from residents who have lived and worked in the estate. The stories were mostly about their experiences, as though it happened only yesterday. Some even got emotional as they spoke about their fond memories.

I don't know about you, but I love listening to anecdotes of the past, therefore I dig these sorta things.

3) Peek Into Singapore's Past

I saw actual historical landmarks that still existed today!

Princess House - 332 Alexandra Road
The 7-storey Princess House along Alexandra Road was opened in 1957 as a multi-purpose office building. Designated as the new office for the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), it was later used as the first headquarters of the Housing and Development Board (HDB). It also housed the Social Welfare and Licensing departments in the western wing and offices to be rented out in the eastern wing.

I was told that some of the disparate foreign dignitaries who have left their footprints were Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh; Princess Margaret; Edward Health, then Prime Minister of Australia, during their visit to learn about Singapore's housing programme. Since 2007, this building has been gazetted for conservation.

Black and white bungalows hidden along Kay Siang Road
Coined "black and white" after their distinct black timber frames and white walls, these bungalows were constructed by the British from 1920s onwards to house British personnel working in the nearby military installations at Alexandra and Tanglin Barracks / Camps. I understand that the Black and White style in Singapore is known for its use in colonial bungalows.

Now used for conservation, you can also find similar apartment buildings at Woking Road / Whitchurch Road.

Queensway Shopping Centre - 1 Queensway
One of Singapore's first multi-purpose shopping complexes, Queensway Shopping Centre has stood the test of time as well! My family's favourite haunt whenever we needed to look for sports equipment at a bargain, it was opened in 1974 to offer shopping and recreational choices.

I vividly remember purchasing my first Billabong bag from one of the shops after annoying persuading my parents non-stop for a week. Ahh, what memories!

Butterfly Block and Stirling View Estate - Block 168A Queensway
You definitely won't miss Block 168A Queensway with its interesting 20-storey exterior. With a unique colloquial name "the Butterfly Block" for its striking resemblance to the winged insect, it is one of the first curved-shape blocks constructed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

Thanks to this media trail, I got to interview Mr Paul Fernandez, who moved in with his family from a wooden hut at Bukit Timah Road, into the Butterfly Block 40 years ago. He recalled the early days when HDB was in a hurry to relocate residents when public accommodation was first implemented. Mr Fernandez also recounted how the block had poor workmanship as a result of the haste!

4) Make New Friends

Capped at 50 participants per guided session, you're bound to meet people from all walks of life! I enjoyed interacting and sharing my opinions of this trail with other writers and representatives from various organisations in my group.

5) Get Ready For An Adventure

Bunkers along Kay Siang Road from World War II
Hidden in a heavily forested area along Kay Siang Road, you will find abandoned and sound proof bunkers constructed in 1945, believed to store ammunitions for the British army. You won't see such octopus-like roots of trees growing all over the wall like that unless they have been there for a long period.

This was my highlight of the tour! Surrounded by thick vegetation, trespassing is illegal in this area unless you're there as part of the trail. I had to be extra careful as I climbed through slippery slopes and uneven paths like a true explorer - how exciting! My tour guide told me there were a total of three bunkers here, but I did not see all of them due to time constraints.

6) Marvel At The Changes From Past To Present

The tour guide compared pictures of old HDB blocks from the early days in the same area to the upcoming ones we see today. It is amazing how much has changed in such a short period of time.

Queenstown Neighbourhood Police Centre and Alexandra Fire Station - 3 Queensway
First of its kind, this complex houses both the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Singapore Police Force.

With the bright blue exterior that caught my attention, the Alexandra Fire Station is Singapore's third fire station opened in 1954. The biggest fire station in the 1960s, did you know that the curved frontage of the station was specifically designed to give an easy turn out to engines rushing out to answer fire calls?

As for the Queenstown Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) in the next building, it is Singapore's first neighbourhood police centre opened in 1997. I was surprised that it modelled after the koan system in Japan!

7) Go Beyond Your Textbook

If only social studies lessons were this real and interesting, I probably wouldn't have done so badly for my papers. :P I got to learn more about topics my teachers and textbooks didn't teach in school.

This empty field here used to be the grounds of Hwa Yi School. Even though the school was demolished for redevelopments in the area, you still can see the outline of the running track. A participant in my group told us that he used to date his girlfriend (now wife) here because of the quiet surroundings!

Site of Hock Lee Bus Riots

Not many are aware, but at the junction of Dawson Road and Alexandra Road was where one of the major riots in Singapore during the 1950s started. I am sure all of us are aware of the infamous Hock Lee Bus Riots since we read about it in our Social Studies textbook.

We stopped at that very junction briefly as we took a moment for Singapore's dark past to sink in.

Somewhere along the way, I also caught a glimpse of where the first HDB point blocks used to be located.

8) Be A Tourist In Your Own Country

Just when I thought that I knew Singapore like the back of my hand, it came to my realization that I was wrong! There's too much about this little red dot that I have yet to learn about.

Tiong Ghee Temple - 1085 Stirling Road
Built in 1973, Tiong Ghee Temple is Queenstown's oldest Taoist temple. It replaces the original old temple at Boh Beh Kang (Hokkien for No Tail River) village, which was torn down in 1968 for the development of Mei Ling estate. Today, the Temple is a gathering point for former Boh Beh Kang villagers and a lasting reminder of Queenstown's past.

P.S. The name Boh Beh Kang is induced as villagers were unable to establish the stream's source.

9) There's Too Much To Discover

Alexandra Hospital - 378 Alexandra Road
My tour ended at the Alexandra Hospital, known as the British Military Hospital in the past. It served as the primary hospital for Britain's Far East Command during World War II. Then, it was the most advanced and best-equipped medical institution in Singapore and Malaya!

However, this was also the grounds of the largest and most cruel World War II massacres. A day before the surrender of Singapore in 1942, the Japanese troops took the lives of more than 200 hospital personnels and patients.

I was taken to the entrance of 2 mysterious tunnels within the hospital. However, I was not allowed to enter as the tunnels were not open to the public at the moment. Now I'm curious and will be back to take a look!

10) The Guides Are Passionate

Even with sweaty faces, the guides were all smiles as they passionately shared every bit of information they knew. I saw how well-researched they were when answering seemingly difficult questions about Queenstown posed from the older participants in the group. With a thick folder of past pictures that they managed to collect, they brought the past to life.

11) It Is Free!

Oh, yes it is! In fact, I think the tours are fully booked until next year and you'll be on the waiting list... Nevertheless, try your luck and register your interest now!

In conclusion, I had quite the experience on this trail. I'm no early riser, but it was worth dragging myself out of bed for since my day turned out to be so productive. *pats myself on the back* I think it's a responsibility as a young Singaporean to be inquisitive about my country's history.

The tour will take place every last Saturday of the month and will begin in May. Brace yourself with a lot of walking and go prepared with the necessities!

To register for the guided tours:
Queenstown Community Centre @ 6474 1681

For more information, visit:

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