Earlier this month, I posted a series of articles to the Singapore Memories Portal in support of their Iremember goes to Toa Payoh project. I reorganize and reproduce them here for GMY readers.
The first time I saw Toa Payoh
The first time I saw Toa Payoh, I didn’t know it was Toa Payoh. The year must be around 1963 or 1964 and I was studying at the Braddell Rise School. This was a primary school that was located next to the Mount Alvernia Hospital.
The main entrance to our school was from Thomson Road, and at the back of our school, i.e. at the top of the hill was our school field. At the edge of the field was a fence with many shrubs at the other side. It was at this field that we had our sports events and played the boys’ favourite game, Hantam Bola! The location of this field, in today’s terms, would probably be the Assisi Home and Hospice.
One day, for reasons I cannot remember, I stood on my toes and peered over the school fence and the shrubs outside. I saw something I had never seen before all my days living in a kampong. I saw in the distance, a huge piece of land that had been cleared of its vegetation; i.e. totally bare surface. I did not know it at that time. They were constructing one of Singapore’s earliest modern HDB housing estates – Toa Payoh.
This is a 1956 photo of the BRS field (from the National Archives' Picas Collection)
Where it all began
This 1963 photo, from the National Archives collection shows a wayang stage along Braddell Road. The exact location in today’s geography would be somewhere near Toa Payoh blocks 217 or 218; i.e. between the Kallang River and Toa Payoh North Flyover.
During my primary school days in the 1960s, I passed by this wayang stage practically every day. There was something very interesting about it. During the Chinese Seventh Month period, also known as Hungry Ghost festival period, this wayang stage would come alive with opera shows. But on normal days, it functioned as a school. Hence, when my bus passed by, I could see students attending classes on the wayang stage!
In this photo you will notice a huge bull dozer and some children standing around a shop with attap roof, and gawking at the action. Do you know where this bull dozer is headed? It is headed towards what would become Singapore’s largest and most modern HDB estate, Toa Payoh. Joining an army of similar earth-moving equipment, it will convert kampong and farmland into a modern housing estate which will provide high-rise apartments to house the former kampong folks.
Here are more photos of the earth-moving equipment being used for the construction of Toa Payoh (from the National Archives of Singapore collection)