Speech by Minister Lawrence Wong at the Opening of Fort Canning Gardens

May 27, 2019

I’m very happy to join you this morning at Fort Canning Park. 

Fort Canning Park is a rare and precious gem in Singapore. It is a green lung in the heart of our city, with an exceptionally rich history.

That is why, sometime early last year, we set out with a master plan to restore the heritage landscapes of the hill, with three goals in mind: to bring history to life, to improve accessibility, and to make Fort Canning Park an attractive destination for everyone.

Today, I am very happy that we are able to open the new Fort Canning Gardens. There are 9 areas covering about 8 hectares in space, designed to tell the story of Fort Canning from the 14th to the 20th centuries. 

The intent of this plan was to restore landscapes that were known to have existed or could have existed in Fort Canning Park many years ago. To do so, we consulted archaeologists and historians; the team scoured through historical records, old photos, maps and letters, which was a lot of work. I am very happy that we are able to open the gardens today. This is particularly timely because we are also marking our Bicentennial this year, and the Bicentennial Show will be starting very soon at Fort Canning Centre.

One of the historical sites is believed to have been the royal palace of Sang Nila Utama. The palace was believed to have stood at the top of Fort Canning Hill in the 14th century. Later, the British also found evidence of very old trees and brick ruins at the foot of the hill, suggesting that this was where the palace and royal gardens used to be. 

We have done work to restore what we think might have been the Pancur Larangan or the Forbidden Spring, as well as the royal garden, which we are naming the Sang Nila Utama Garden. We have re-imagined what these royal gardens could have looked like, with features such as a symmetrical layout, brick split gates, and a reflective pool.

The ancient royal gardens would also have been filled with fruit trees and flowering plants in abundance. They were often used as religious offerings. NParks has brought back some of the plants that we believe could have been here in the 14th century.

Later on, in the 19th century, Fort Canning Hill was also home to Singapore’s first botanical and experimental garden. The British focused on growing spices and crops to boost Singapore’s economy. At one point, the garden had over 600 nutmeg trees and 300 clove plants. We have attempted to restore the First Botanic Garden near its original location, featuring crops that were introduced to Singapore in the early colonial era. 

If you go more recently in history, we have Jubilee Park – the park facing Clarke Quay. This used to be a popular recreational site for Singaporeans. It was home to the River Valley Swimming Pool, Van Kleef Aquarium, and the National Theatre. We have restored this green space as a family-friendly node with a new nature play garden. There is also space for outdoor art installations, performances and events.

In addition to the gardens, we have improved accessibility and connectivity at Fort Canning. There has been feedback over many years about easier access to the hill, especially for seniors and families with young children. We have listened to the feedback, and put in place covered escalators. One is from Fort Canning MRT to the Fort Canning Centre. Normally you would have to walk up, as I understand from the team, 185 steps to get to the top. Now it is quite seamless taking an escalator all the way up. The other set of escalators are from City Hall MRT to Farquhar Garden and Fort Canning Green. All of this should make getting to Fort Canning Park much easier. 

We have also pedestrianised some roads, such as part of Canning Rise and Armenian Street. This also creates more seamless connectivity to Fort Canning Park from the Bras Basah-Bugis District.

Besides these infrastructural enhancements, we are working to make Fort Canning a more lively destination for all Singaporeans. For the first two weekends in June, visitors can look forward to a wide range of family-friendly activities. 

After this, for the coming year, there will be specially curated activities every weekend. For example, we have craft workshops, themed bazaars and musical performances. There will also be the usual popular events at Fort Canning through the year, like Ballet Under the Stars and Films at the Fort.

There is a lot that has been done, but this is still just the start of our enhancement plans. NParks will be embarking on the second phase of the Fort Canning Park master plan, which will be implemented over the coming two years. 

We intend to complete the revamp of Jubilee Park. What you see now is just the first phase. Beyond the amenities that we have added in phase one, we will repurpose the adjacent Foothills into a lifestyle venue with galleries and new F&B outlets. 

We will add a new gallery trail at the Spice Garden, to showcase the importance of spices in our history. In this regard, for this particular project, we would like to thank Nomanbhoy & Sons, a spice trading company with over 100 years of history in Singapore, for their generous support. 

We intend to open up more spaces on the Hill. For example, there are great views of Singapore’s coast at the summit of Fort Canning. NParks will conduct a feasibility study for a lookout point and gallery at the top of the hill.

We are also studying longer-term plans for Fort Canning Centre. It’s now used for the Bicentennial Show. Beyond that, we will explore how this space can be best utilised and made into a vibrant activity node for the community. 

With all these enhancements, I am very confident that Fort Canning Park will be a new leisure attraction in our Arts & Cultural District. It will be a green focal point in the heart of our city, and a compelling destination for Singaporeans to visit and enjoy.

Finally, I would like to commend the NParks team for their hard work work in this project. We launched the master plan early last year. In just one and a half years, NParks, as well as their stakeholders and many partners, have worked very hard to make what you see today possible. I thank them for their work in bringing history to life in a way that is accessible to many more Singaporeans.

Coming soon on 1 June, there will be the Bicentennial Show at Fort Canning Centre. For those of you who have seen the preview, you know that it is a good show. Please encourage more people to visit and see the show for themselves.

Thank you very much. Please enjoy the rest of the day.