Heartland artefacts looking for a home

Heartland artefacts looking for a home
(From left) Queenstown residents Madam Alice Lee, Madam Ngan Bei Shan and Madam Soh Kim Tee - who contributed to the museum project - with My Community's vice-president Jasper Tan (left) and founder Kwek Li Yong. Behind them is the former Commonwealth Avenue wet market - a potential site for the museum.

Several neon signs and three bowling pins from the 36-year-old Queenstown Cinema and Bowling Alley which was torn down last June.

A bottle of Anchor Beer produced in the 1980s at a brewery on Alexandra Road.

A curfew card that allowed a resident to travel to the now-defunct Thye Hong Biscuit Factory for work during the 1955 Hock Lee Bus Company riots.

These and more than 50 artefacts - including photos and cash registers - showcasing Queenstown's heritage are now waiting for a new home: a community museum celebrating Singapore's first satellite town.

But with just $8,000 of the $2 million needed to set it up raised so far, the civic group behind the project admits it has plenty more work to do.

But My Community believes, with the help of residents and the private sector, it will have the museum up in around four years.

A potential site has already been earmarked - a one-storey building, formerly a wet market, on Commonwealth Avenue that has been gazetted for conservation.

To add to the My Queenstown Heritage Fund, which is being managed by the area's Citizens' Consultative Committee, My Community will be going door-to-door in the estate for donations today.

It will also auction copies of its book on the estate's past when it is launched in October.

Said Mr Kwek Li Yong, the founder of My Community, said: "We hope that the museum can be the focal point of the community - where older residents can reminisce while newer residents learn about the estate's history."

The 60-year-old town - named after Britain's Queen Elizabeth II - was developed as a Singapore Improvement Trust project in 1952 to tackle overcrowding in Chinatown. In 1960, the Housing Development Board built its first high-rise flats there as well.

By the 1990s, many well-loved community spaces and buildings were demolished to make way for redevelopment. These include landmarks such as the Margaret Drive hawker centre and Queenstown Remand Prison.

Mr Kwek, 25, said the museum will serve as a record of these bygone places. Together with his team of 14 volunteers, they have been documenting and organising heritage activities since 2009.

Encouraging the public to donate, Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Chia Shi-Lu said the museum has come as part of the community's own request "to document the estate's memories and champion our history and heritage".

The community has already shown plenty of interest. Last year, more than 22,000 residents attended 37 performances and exhibitions at the two-week-long My Queenstown 60th-anniversary celebrations organised by Mr Kwek and his team.

The civic group said these activities also form part of its bid for the Heritage Town Award, which will be announced by the National Heritage Board in July.

The title, which lasts for two years, will put the spotlight on Queenstown, and make it easier to raise more funds for the museum and future heritage trails and sites, said Mr Kwek.

Architect and urban historian Lai Chee Kien believes the Queenstown museum will be a welcome addition to the community museums here - after the one-year-old Our Museum @ Taman Jurong and two other upcoming heartland galleries by the National Heritage Board.

Such community museums "record the oral histories, material culture and social life of a community in greater detail, which might escape larger, national museums or official discourse", said Dr Lai who grew up in Queenstown.

"The neighbourhood means a lot to us older residents," said 66-year-old Alice Lee, a housewife who has been living there since 1969.

"It's good that everything about its history and heritage, will be under one roof so that we can share it with the rest of Singapore."

OLD MARKET MAY HOUSE MUSEUM

The former Commonwealth Avenue wet market, which could house the new Queenstown Museum, has a rich history which dates back to 1960.

It cost the Singapore Improvement Trust, which was set up in 1927 by the colonial government, $240,000 to build.

Officially opened by Queenstown Assemblyman Lee Siew Choh in October 1960, it features a honeycomb screen wall to keep the interior ventilated, and a parabolic vaulted roof which lets rainwater drain quickly.

It was built to house roadside hawkers who used to ply their trade along Margaret Drive, Commonwealth Crescent and Tanglin Halt Road. It also had fresh produce stalls and provision shops.

The market was closed in 2005 due to poor business after nearby flats were demolished.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority slated it for conservation under its 2013 Master Plan.

The Housing Board told The Sunday Times that the building will be given a new lease of life when it is integrated into a new public housing development. More details will be released at a later date, said its spokesman.

This article was published on April 27 in The Straits Times.

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