Forbidden Hill spiced and demystified

27 08 2022

Fort Canning Hill, aka Bukit Larangan or Forbidden Hill, the place of many a schoolboy adventure for me, has always been a place of discovery and rediscovery for me, as well as a space that provides an escape from the urban world. An abode of the ancient kings of Singapura — the spirits of whom are said to still roam the hill, the hill is one steeped as much in history, as it is surrounded by mystery.

Fort Canning Hill, the Forbidden Hill is a place that has long been cloaked with an air of mystery.

The mystery of the place, was quite evident when the British first established their presence in Singapore in 1819. Col William Farquhar’s attempt to ascend the strategically positioned elevation, which commanded a view of the plain across which the settlement and Singapore River, was met with resistance by the followers of Temenggong Abdul Rahman who claimed that the sounds of gongs and drums and the shouts of hundreds of men could be heard, even if all that was present then on the hill were only the reminders of a long lost 14th century kingdom. The claim did not deter Farquhar from making his ascent, nor his colleagues in the East India Company, who would exploit the hill to place the seat of colonial rule in Singapore, as an experimental botanical garden, for the first Christian spaces for the dead, and as an artillery fort and barracks, for fresh water supply to the fast developing municipality and as a strategic military command bunker.

It has long been a place of escape for me.

Much of that history, and mystery, is now wonderfully captured in the new Fort Canning Heritage Gallery — and in a book “Fort Canning Park: Heritage and Gardens” that was launched in conjunction with the gallery’s opening yesterday on 26 August 2022. The gallery is housed in a 1920s barrack block now known as Fort Canning Centre, that has seen use most recently as a staging point for the Bicentennial Experience and as the short-lived private museum, Singapore Pinacothèque de Paris. The centre, which also housed the “world’s largest squash centre” from the 1977 to 1987 during the height of the squash rackets craze in Singapore, sits quite grandly atop the slope we know today as Fort Canning Green and forms a magnificent backdrop to the many events that the former cemetery grounds now plays host to.

Fort Canning Centre, a 1920s barrack block in which the newly opened Fort Canning Heritage Gallery is housed.

Divided into five zones, the gallery provides an introduction to the hill, and through four themed zones, places focus on a particular aspect of the role that the hill has played through its own and also more broadly, Singapore’s history. The stories, told succinctly through information panels, archaeological artefacts excavated from the hill and interactive digital stations, provide just enough information to the visitor to provide an appreciation of the hill history and its heritage. There is also a condensed version of the “From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience” video that plays in a mini-theatrette within the gallery.

Minister of National Development, Mr Desmond Lee, opening the new Fort Canning Heritage Gallery.

Also opened with the new gallery was an enhanced Spice Garden, which now extends to the 2019 pedestrianised section of Fort Canning Rise and a pedestrian ramp and underpass (that once led to the former car park at the rear of the old National Library). The pedestrian ramp and underpass now features the new Spice Gallery, which I thought was a wonderful and meaningful way to use a space that serves little other practical use today. The Spice Gallery, made possible by the generous support of Nomanbhoy and Sons Pte Ltd — a spice trader with over a hundred years of history, provides an appreciation of the significance of the spice trade to modern Singapore’s early development as a trading hub and also the role that Fort Canning Hill played in Singapore’s early spice plantations.

The newly opened Spice Gallery at the enhanced Spice Garden occupies a former pedestrian ramp and underpass.

A book, “Fort Canning Park: Heritage and Gardens”, authored by Dr Chng Mun Whye and Ms Sara-Ann Ang, which highlights the park’s rich heritage, was also launched together with the opening. This is available for sale Gardens Shop at various locations around the Singapore Botanic Gardens or online at at SGD 29.90.

A book, “Fort Canning Park: Heritage and Gardens” was launched together with the opening.

Along with the permanent exhibition two galleries, there is also a “Kaleidoscope in Clay (I)” exhibition that features exhibits showcasing 5,000 years of Chinese ceramic history from 26 August to 11 September 2022 at The Gallery@L3, Fort Canning Centre. Also running is the 3rd edition of Festival at the Fort being held in conjunction with the opening and Singapore Night Festival, the programmes of which include movie screenings at Fort Canning Green, guided tours and children’s activities. The festival runs from 26 August to 4 September 2022 and more information can be found at

Kaleidoscope in Clay (I) at Gallery@L3, Fort Canning Centre.

Fort Canning Heritage Gallery is opened daily from 10 am to 6 pm (expect for the last Monday of each month), while the Spice Gallery is opened from 7 am to 7 pm daily. Entry to both galleries is free to the public.

Photographs of Fort Canning Heritage Gallery during the opening on 26 August 2022.

Fort Canning Centre, various views

Fort Canning Spice Gallery / enhanced Spice Garden


The ladies behind Avenue 1960s

21 02 2014

Meet Candy Tan Hui Shi (22), Koh Xin Yue Karen (22), Phang Su Hui (23), and Tan Huay Peng (22), the gang of four who are behind Avenue 1960s: Stories of Live, Laugh, Love in Singapore. Avenue 1960s is an initiative by the four undergraduates at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communications and Information at Nanayang Technological University to connect young Singaporeans with their heritage, as part of their final year project. The campaign, which runs from December 2013 to March 2014 and supervised by Associate Professor Dr Lee Chun Wah, seeks to reach out to some 10,000 youths to get them to develop an appreciation of where they did come from by encouraging conversations with their parents. 

Mr Hazawi Daipi and the four NTU undergraduates, taking a trip down the avenue to the 1960s.

Mr Hazawi Daipi and the four NTU undergraduates, taking a trip down the avenue to the 1960s.

How did the group get interested in heritage?

Between the four of us, we’re really interested in how Singapore was like in the past, and it never fails to amaze us. For example, Candy likes traditional toys, whereby Karen likes old photography and cameras, Huay Peng likes old maps and places, and Suhui thinks that kampong life was a very different experience.

What motivated the group to start this initiative?

It started from a group meeting that we had. Some of us were talking about how our parents came from the kampong, and Candy always thought that her dad lived in a HDB flat since young. But she later on found out that it wasn’t true! Although we laughed about it, it got us thinking whether young Singaporeans know about their parents’ stories, or even how Singapore was like in the past. So we started a heritage campaign that is focused on the youths, to help them know more about Singapore’s past and heritage by encouraging them to find out more through talking to their parents about it.

What do you hope to achieve through the effort?

As a youth-centric heritage campaign, we would say that our campaign is actually one of the first few times that heritage promotion is specially targeted at the younger Singaporeans.

Through this project, we hope to let more young Singaporeans know more about how life in the past was like and in the process, young Singaporeans would feel more connected towards our heritage.

With that, we hope to motivate them to start looking for more stories about Singapore heritage, starting from their closest and intimate source, their parents.

Why did you decide to focus on the 1960s to the 1980s?

We chose to focus on the 1960s because it was the nation-building years where, Singapore was in the midst of an important transition.

Also, our parents would find the 1960s familiar. They probably lived through the 1960s as young children, and they have seen how Singapore has changed, and now they’re in the best position to tell us about it.

How successful do you think you have been in meeting your objective of connecting youths with heritage thus far?

I guess the most useful indicator of our campaign’s success is really when we interact with young Singaporeans of our age during our outreach activities and our exhibition. We’ve heard good feedback from students saying that they really enjoyed our exhibits, and that they’ve actually learnt new things and have many takeaways from our campaigns.

Also, for those young Singaporeans who participated in our postcard competition (where they brought from postcards with several questions, which served as conversation starters to get them to ask about their parents’ childhood stories), the very interesting stories that we get from them also shows us that they actually did take the extra effort to find out more about Singapore back in the 1960s.

Our aim is to spark the curiousity of young Singaporeans towards Singapore’s past, and we feel satisfied with the positive responses we had thus far.

Singapore is evolving at a rapid pace and some say we shouldn’t dwell on the past but look towards the future. Who we are does evolve – for example the childhood games that my parents played are very different from me, and the same can be said for me and my children – and certain aspects of the past may not have a place in the future. What are your thoughts on this? 

It is true that with each coming generation, the stories of how life was like changes – but what my team is concerned about, is a seemingly lack of oral tradition between the parents/grandparents and the young Singaporeans of this generation. Knowing what happened in the past helps us understand that there was more that happened before we were born, and by knowing our parents’ stories, we think that this would also help us bond better as a family.

Why do you think it is necessary or important to connect with our heritage?

​We also strongly feel that our knowledge of Singapore’s past should not solely consist of history (significant dates, milestones, events), but also heritage – it is the Singaporean way of life, culture, food, etc.

To find out more on Avenue 1960s, do visit  or

Down an avenue to the 1960s

20 02 2014

It all started with a conversation four NTU undergraduates had about the kampungs (villages) their parents came from. That prompted a desire to find out more about their parents lives in their kampungs which was to lead to a wonderful initiative the four have undertaken to connect young Singaporeans with their heritage through a series of roadshows and other activities and through encouraging the young to have conversations with their parents.

Mr Hazawi Daipi and the four NTU undergraduates, taking a trip down the avenue to the 1960s.

Mr Hazawi Daipi and the four NTU undergraduates, taking a trip down the avenue to the 1960s. The four undergraduates are (L-R): Candy Tan Hui Shi, Koh Xin Yue Karen, Phang Su Hui and Tan Huay Peng.

Some of their efforts can now be see at an exhibition “Avenue 1960s: Stories of Live, Laugh, Love in Singapore”, which was opened by Mr Hazawi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Manpower at The Arts House yesterday. The exhibition, which runs until 23 February 2014, gives the take of the four with the help of five apsiring artists, on the lives of the generation of their parents during the nation-building years.

Mr Hazawi Daipi opening the exhibition.

Mr Hazawi Daipi opening the exhibition.

The exhibition also features the works of five aspiring artists.

The exhibition also features the works of five aspiring artists.

An exhibition panel on transport in the 1960s.

An exhibition panel on transport in the 1960s.

Together with the opening a forum, jointly organised with REACH, was also held last evening with the aim to stimulate further discussion on Singapore’s heritage among the youths. Chaired by Mr Hawazi Daipi and Dr Chua Ai Lin, President of Singapore Heritage Society, the forum saw the opinions of both young and old being shared in a lively discussion that started with an attempt to define what the term ‘heritage” should mean.

Mr Hazawi Daipi and Ms Chua Ai Lin chairing last evening's forum.

Mr Hazawi Daipi and Dr Chua Ai Lin chairing last evening’s forum.

About Avenue 1960s:

Organised by four undergraduates of the Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, the
exhibition is an outreach event for “Avenue 1960s”, a social campaign that aims to connecting young Singaporeans aged 17 to 25 with their heritage.

To find out what their peers think about the Singapore heritage, the organisers conducted heritage roadshows in four polytechnics and university campuses to reach out to these students. They were encouraged to find out about their parents’ childhood stories through a series of postcards that were distributed. These postcards, along with written Post-it notes that contain what young Singaporeans love most about the 1960s, would be on display at the exhibition itself.

Also featured in the exhibition are seven artworks created by five local aspiring youth artists. Inspired by Singapore’s social scene and life back in the
1960s, these artworks collectively illustrate youths’ interpretation of how life was like back then.

Exhibition Details

Dates: 19 February 2014, 6pm (Official Launch)
20 – 23 February 2014, 10am – 9pm
Venue: The Arts House, The Gallery
1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore 179429

Programme Highlights

‘Avenue 1960s’ at The Arts House is a week-long exhibition, which provides a sneak peek into life in Singapore in the 1960s. Featuring “Live Town”, “Laugh Lane” and “Love Way”, the differently themed information panels aim to explore the poignant aspects of kampong life, such as common traditional games and the “kampong spirit”. Supported by various collectors, the exhibition includes a display of artefacts – basic necessities of Singaporeans back then.

Postcards as well as dedications from youths will be installed at the exhibition, where visitors can look at youths’ opinions of Singapore heritage. Artefacts of daily household items that belonged to a kampong kitchen will be in the exhibition. Lastly, artworks produced by five aspiring youth artists will also be showcased. These artworks bear special meaning as they illustrate how young Singaporeans’ interpret life back in the 1960s.

There will be a traditional kite-making workshop on 22 Feb (Sat), where participants will get a chance to make kites from scratch, just like how children from kampongs of the past used easily available materials such as rattan and recyclable plastic bags.

To find out more, visit  or