SINGAPORE - Fort Canning Park will be the venue of the island's main bicentennial showcase next year, and in an early birthday gift, the park on the hill will be spruced up from March.
Plans for it include the recreation of three historical gardens, a new heritage museum, the creative reproduction of an ancient, forgotten spring as well escalator access from Fort Canning MRT station to the hill's peak These changes, which are permanent and part of the National Parks Board's (NParks) ongoing efforts to inject life to the site, coincide with the bicentennial commemoration.
The commemoration, led by the Prime Minister's Office, will be marked by a year-long calendar of events in 2019, culminating in an exhibition harnessing technology that highlights the island's various milestones. It will be sited at the Fort Canning Centre.
The announcement was made by Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong on Saturday (Feb 3).
The works will span eight hectares of the historic 18-ha hill. Fort Canning is the second largest park in the city, behind the Botanic Gardens, which has 82 hectares.
NParks said the project will improve accessibility, especially for the elderly and disabled. It will also install two sheltered sets of escalators to connect Fort Canning MRT station to the hill's peak. A covered roof will be added to the escalators that now link the park to Stamford Green.
Pedestrian crossings and connections from nearby buildings such as the National Museum and the redeveloped Park Mall will be added too.
In his speech, Mr Wong said the impression is that Fort Canning is difficult to access. "Fort Canning is really an integral part of the long history of Singapore, way before independence. We want to ensure that its stories continue to be remembered. That's why we have plans to enhance Fort Canning," he said.
To pay homage to the forbidden spring, where royal women once bathed, NParks will erect a water feature and stone murals on the western part of the hill, where it likely once stood.
Fort Canning Park director Koh Poo Kiong said the aim is to create a focal point "to depict the significance of water to the site back in the day".
According to old records, the stream later supplied fresh water to ships stopping at the port until 1830, when it dried up. Mr Koh added that the feature could also serve as a backdrop for traditional dances.
A dedicated heritage museum is also set to open at the three-storey conserved Fort Canning Centre, originally constructed as British army barracks in 1926.
Private art museum Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris moved out last year.
The new museum will cover the history and natural history of the area through the 14th, 19th and 20th centuries. Space will be dedicated to hosting workshops and other programmes as well.
Artefacts such as jewellery, ceramics and coins dug up from various archaeological excavations conducted by archaeologist John Miksic since 1984, are expected to be one highlight of the museum. NParks said it will be consulting historians and the National Heritage Board for the project.
As a nod to the heritage landscapes of times past, NParks will be developing three new gardens in and around Fort Canning Park.
1. The Royal Garden, which will face Stamford Road, will showcase plants such as jackfruit and rambutan, as well as gardenias, jasmines and magnolias. These were observed at the hill by the second British resident in Singapore, John Crawfurd, in 1822 as evidence of a 14th century palace garden.
2. The second garden will be planted in a part of Armenian Street, which will be partially pedestrianised by the middle of this year. This will re-create the island's first urban botanic garden, which Sir Stamford Raffles established, on the eastern slope of Fort Canning Hill in 1822.
There, NParks will plant spices introduced to Singapore between the 1820s and 1840s, such as clove and nutmeg, as well as custard apple and chiku fruit trees.
These trees and shrubs will be planted along Hill Street, Victoria Street, Bras Basah Road, Handy Road and Canning Rise, which formed the boundaries of the original Botanic Garden.
3. The third garden, to be named Jubilee Park, will be sited within the park, at the junction of River Valley Road and Clemenceau Avenue. The public can look forward to play areas for children, cafes, an outdoor theatre space and an event lawn for art installations, artist markets and performances.
The cost of the project has yet to be pinned down, said NParks.
On average, approximately 900,000 visitors visit the national park in a year.
Fort Canning Hill, which offers sweeping views of the city, was originally known as Bukit Larangan or Forbidden Hill. It has undergone multiple phases of development and many changes of use throughout history.
Heritage blogger Jerome Lim, who visits the hill at least twice a month, said he welcomes the move to pay homage to days long gone and preserve the past through landscaping works and minor additions. He added that any intervention must be sensitively executed.
He said: "It is important to retain its rustic and green feel of the place as it is truly a green lung in the city."
NParks will also be curating again its existing heritage trails of the site.
It said the public can share their feedback at a public exhibition held at the Fort Canning Centre from today (Feb 3) to Feb 11 or online at www.nparks.gov.sg/fortcanning.
Works will be done progressively and completed by June next year (2019).