NHB launches upgraded walking trail focusing on the Singapore River's history

The National Heritage Board is launching a new self-guided walking trail that focuses on the Singapore River, stretching from Collyer Quay to Robertson Quay.
The National Heritage Board is launching a new self-guided walking trail that focuses on the Singapore River, stretching from Collyer Quay to Robertson Quay. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - As a young girl in the 1940s, Mrs Geraldene Lowe-Ismail remembers seeing people stream in and out of a Chinese clinic on Eu Tong Sen Street, while watching "wayang" or street opera with her grandmother at two theatres nearby.

The theatres are long gone, but the building, which housed the Thong Chai Medical Institution, still stands and is now a national monument.

Established in 1867 by seven Chinese merchants, the clinic provided free medical treatment to the needy, including coolies and boatmen who worked along the Singapore River.

"It's great that they kept the building," said Mrs Lowe-Ismail, now 77 and a veteran tour guide.

The building is one of 14 heritage sites featured in a self-guided walking trail launched by the National Heritage Board (NHB) on Wednesday. The 2.8km Singapore River Walk stretches from Collyer Quay to Robertson Quay, covering historic buildings, places of worship and bridges.

Those who walk along the route - an updated version of a previous trail launched by NHB in 2005 - can learn of the Singapore River's story through "heritage markers", which are plaques detailing the history of each site. Of the 14 markers, seven are new, including those featuring the clinic and Singapore's oldest mosque and place of worship, the Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka, which was established in 1820.

Mr Tan Boon Hui, the NHB's assistant chief executive of museums and programmes, said the refreshed trail comes with a renewed focus on the river and its evolution over the years, unlike the previous trail which offered a broader storyline of Singapore's development.

"Through new content that has been added to make the narrative richer, we are better able to learn about the river's social history and its key role in Singapore's mercantile development," he said.

Global services company American Express contributed US$160,000 (S$227,000) to the decade-old trail's first refurbishment, which went towards further research, development of new and updated site markers, trail booklets and an interactive website which will be available in early 2016.

More information on the trail can be found on NHB's website, www.nhb.gov.sg/places/trails. The trail map is also available at the National Museum of Singapore, the Asian Civilisations Museum, the Peranakan Museum and NHB's office at 61 Stamford Road.

mellinjm@sph.com.sg