NHB launches revitalised river trail

As a young girl in the 1940s, Mrs Geraldene Lowe-Ismail would see people stream in and out of a Chinese clinic in Chinatown as she watched opera shows with her grandmother at two theatres nearby.

The theatres are long gone, but the building in Eu Tong Sen Street which originally housed the clinic, known as Thong Chai Medical Institution, still stands and is now a national monument.

Mrs Lowe-Ismail, now 77 and a veteran tour guide, is glad that the building has been preserved. 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.

The former Thong Chai Medical Institution is one of 14 heritage sites featured in a self-guided walking trail launched by the National Heritage Board (NHB) yesterday.

The 2.8km Singapore River Walk, which takes about 1 1/2 hours to complete, stretches from Collyer Quay to Robertson Quay. It covers historic buildings, places of worship and bridges.

Those who walk along the route – which replaces the Singapore River Trail launched by NHB in 2005 – can learn about the river’s story through 14 “heritage markers”, plaques detailing the history of each site. Seven are new – including those featuring the former clinic and the Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka, Singapore’s oldest mosque and place of worship established in 1820.

Mr Tan Boon Hui, NHB’s assistant chief executive of museums and programmes, said the revitalised trail focuses on the river and its evolution, unlike the previous trail which offered a broader storyline of Singapore’s development. “We hope the enhanced trail will reveal lesser known facts of the river and enable a renewed appreciation of its vital role over the years,” he said.

Global services company American Express funded the refurbishment of the decade-old trail, which cost US$160,000 (S$227,000).

The funds went towards further research, trail booklets, the development of new and updated site markers, and an interactive website which will be available early next year.

The sites featured on the trail will not overlap with those on the upcoming Jubilee Walk, said NHB curator David Chew. The Jubilee Walk – an 8km trail – comprises 25 historic and iconic markers in the civic district and Marina Bay area, and will be launched on Nov 29.

More information on the Singapore River Walk can be found on the NHB’s website.

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