New Sembawang heritage trail showcases naval history, stories of diverse communities at the coastal town

The heritage trail allows visitors to discover Sembawang’s growth from a rubber plantation to a British naval facility post World War II.

Xynthea Ong

Expert pinterest scroller and bubble tea lover.

Published: 14 July 2021, 3:21 PM

Singapore has many places filled with historical milestones and remnants of the past lives of people in the country, with Sembawang included in the mix. 

Although Sembawang is now known to most as a residential town, not many might know the area has a rich history and cultural diversity behind it. It was home to people from all walks of life – from seafaring villagers who dwelt in kampongs, to Asian dockyard workers from Kerala.

In an effort to share the lesser-known stories of Sembawang’s past, the National Heritage Board (NHB) is showcasing this side of the coastal town in the new Sembawang Heritage Trail. 

Featuring 31 trail sites and nine heritage trail markers, the trail allows trail-goers to explore Singapore’s northern coastal town from when it was first mentioned in the maps in the early 1800s.

Formerly a rubber plantation in the early 20th century, Sembawang was later developed into an important naval facility for Britain’s Far East Fleet during the pre- and post-World War II decades. 

Traces of the former naval base still exist today as landmarks, including the stately black-and-white houses that line Admiralty Road East, the elegant Beaulieu House at Sembawang Park and the grand Former Admiralty House at Bukit Canberra, which has become a national monument. 


Additionally, Sembawang has also retained its maritime heritage with the Sembawang Shipyard, known today as the Sembcorp Marine Admiralty Yard. PHOTO CREDITS: NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD


Aside from that, the trail has many other stories that share more aspects about Sembawang’s past. 

The Sembawang Heritage Trail incorporates contributions from 29 Sembawang residents in the form of memories, stories and photographs, along with four contributions from three Facebook open calls for memories which reached out to over 300,000 users and attracted more than 300 comments. 

With these accounts, trail-goers will be able to go back to the past, experiencing the area that used to be a bustling naval base, with rows of bars and shops frequented by visiting sailors, and quaint coastal kampongs

The trail also narrates the stories of many communities who used to reside in this area through the decades, including one of the earliest known inhabitants – the Orang Seletar, plants and boatmen who grew gambier and ferried passengers and goods. 

It also tells stories of villagers of coastal kampongs like Kampong Tanjong Irau, Kampong Tengah and Kampong Wak Hassan, as well as the British naval officers and dockyard workers from Singapore, Malaya, India and Hong Kong. 

With their combined efforts, the early residents established schools, associations and religious institutions such as the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple and Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang that continue to serve the members of their communities till this day. 

For those interested to learn more about Sembawang’s history, trail-goers can embark on three thematic routes in their free time. These routes are: 

1.Historical Landmarks of Sembawang

This route spans for seven kilometers as it takes trail-goers to different sites that recall major milestones in Sembawang’s past.

2.Communities of Sembawang

Out of the three routes, this is the longest trail at eight kilometers as it explores former neighbourhoods in Sembawang. 

3.From Dockyard to Shipyard

Trail-goers can walk along this five kilometer trail as they visit various landmarks that used to be part of the former naval base. 

Mr Alvin Tan, Deputy Chief Executive of NHB, said: “We hope that the new Sembawang Heritage Trail will serve as a springboard for Singaporeans to enjoy this coastal town’s rich naval history, and its surviving landmarks such as the Sembawang Hot Spring, the Sembawang Strip, the Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang etc. We also hope that during this period of travel restrictions, more Singaporeans will venture out and rediscover different parts of Singapore through all of NHB’s heritage trails.”

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