From forested army bunkers to butterfly blocks, the recently launched Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail presents a different side of the historic Queenstown neighbourhood, brought to life through stories by passionate guides and long-time residents.
Starting off at the commercial landmark that is Queenstown MRT, the trail takes you to Forfar House, the first and also once the tallest 14-storey HDB flat in Singapore, before a short walk brings you to the Princess House, a beautifully conserved 7-storey red-bricked building that served as the first dedicated headquarters of the Housing Development Board (HDB).
A few paces down lies the junction of the two main roads of the trail, Alexandra and Dawson Road, which also happens to be the site of the infamous Hock Lee Bus Riots in May 1955.
While most of these stories may be familiar to some, perhaps the most interesting part of the tour lies just ahead along Kay Siang Road, where tour participants can venture into the forested jungle to view a recently unearthed series of storage bunkers.
These bunkers were probably built around 1945 together with the main Buller Camp, which was built to house Japanese POWS after World War II. The discovered bunkers were probably used for storage of both goods and ammunition during the camp’s operation.
Next up is the Tiong Ghee temple, whose humble history dates back to 1931 as an altar in a villager’s hut up till its present site atop Stirling Road that reopened in 1973. It is here that Mr Ang Beng Teck, 85, a volunteer at the temple, shares his many stories that centred around his life in the former kampong area known as Boh Beh Kang.
It is also within the vicinity of the temple that stands a couple of milestones in the HDB’s history. The first being that of the first point-block flats (160 & 161 Mei Ling Street) followed by the first curved block (168A Queensway), better known to many as the butterfly block.
Here, long-time resident Mr Paul Fernandez, 74, who has been living at the block for the past 40 years, recalls former parts of his old neighbourhood, like the old Rumah Bomba roundabout, where rows of street hawkers would sell Singapore favourites like Mee Rebus and Char Kway Teow late into the night.
The last leg of the tour takes you pass the iconic octagonal institution that is the Queensway Shopping Centre, and on to the Alexandra Hospital, the final stop of the tour. Formerly known as the British Military Hospital, it was the most well equipped hospital and served as the principal hospital for Britain’s Far East Command during World War II.
Overall the tour does have something to interest everyone, from personal stories centred around the early days of Singapore, to exploration of uncovered spaces and an appreciation for urban planing and architecture.
The Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail runs on the last Saturday of every month. Interested participants can sign up www.myqueenstown.event brite.sg, firstname.lastname@example.org or call Queenstown Community Centre at 64741681.