3rd Queenstown heritage tour launched

Ms Noorsia, carrying her grandson, has been living in a three-room flat at Commonwealth Close for 31 years. She said life in Queenstown was very convenient.
Ms Noorsia, carrying her grandson, has been living in a three-room flat at Commonwealth Close for 31 years. She said life in Queenstown was very convenient.PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Queenstown was established in the early 1950s as Singapore's first satellite town, and designed such that its residents could go to school or find work in the area.

Cleaning assistant Noorsia Abdul Gani, 53, who has lived in a three-room flat at Commonwealth Close for 31 years, said life in Queenstown was very convenient.

She said: "I used to work for Wing Heng, an electronics company, in Block 115 Commonwealth Drive, while my children attended New Town Primary School, which was located opposite my workplace.

"Every afternoon, I could return home to prepare lunch for my children," said Ms Noorsia.

Block 115 Commonwealth Drive is commonly known as Singapore's first flatted factory, while the building that housed New Town Primary now serves as the MOE Heritage Centre. Both sites are part of a new heritage tour launched yesterday.

Organised by civic group My Community, and supported by the National Heritage Board, Lee Foundation and Tote Board, the tour brings participants through parts of Commonwealth and Holland Village.

Consisting of 15 locations, the tour is the third installation of the My Queenstown Heritage Trail series, which includes two other tours in Tanglin Halt and Margaret Drive, and Dawson and Alexandra.

Participants learnt about the lives of long-time Queenstown residents through first-hand accounts.

"The town may not be visually spectacular, but you really need to go to the nooks and crannies of it to discover its depth. Queenstown has a unique personality not found elsewhere. There are many residents willing to share their stories," said Mr Huang Eu Chai, 53, a volunteer guide for My Community who works in the travel industry.

One resident with a story to share is Madam Tham Hook Hun, 59, who works part-time for a fast-food chain. She had the rare chance of meeting Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, when he visited Block 81 Commonwealth Close in 1965. She still lives there today.

A symbol of Singapore's success in public housing, Block 81 is widely known as the VIP block of Queenstown due to the dignitaries who visited it in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Nobody knew he was coming. It was a pleasant surprise for us and I was very proud that he came to visit us," recounted Madam Tham.

Besides this VIP block, other highlights of the four-hour tour include cultural landmarks like Singapore's last remaining Hakka cemetery, the Ying Fo Fui Kun cemetery.

The tour begins at Chip Bee Gardens, whose shophouses once served as a mess hall for British soldiers to socialise and conduct meetings. It ends at the Ridout and Holland Park conservation area, with black and white bungalows that once housed military officers.

The Commonwealth and Holland Village heritage tour is free and held on every third Sunday of the month, beginning in May.

Interested participants can sign up at www.myqueenstown.eventbrite.sg. My Community is also recruiting volunteers who love heritage tours, curating exhibitions or researching community history. Interested individuals may e-mail volunteer@mycommunity.org.sg.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline '3rd Queenstown heritage tour launched'. Print Edition | Subscribe