Most of the time, it is either rain or shine in Singapore. Swimming has always been a popular activity for Singaporeans, especially in the hot summer days between March and July, when temperatures sometimes hit as high as 35 degree Celsius.
Here we look at the list of swimming facilities in Singapore since the early 20th century.
The First Public Swimming Pool
The Mount Emily Swimming Complex was the first public pool in Singapore when it was opened in January 1931 by the President of the Municipal Commissioners R.J. Farrer (1873-1956)(See Farrer Park Swimming Complex below). It was converted from an old municipal reservoir built in the 1880s that provided fresh water to the town as well as the Kandang Kerbau (KK) Hospital.
Situated at Upper Wilkie Road, the Mount Emily Swimming Complex, consisting of a large pool 50m long and 12m wide and a maximum depth of 2.3m, was extremely popular in the 1930s, serving almost 8,000 swimming enthusiasts per month. It used water supply from the second municipal reservoir nearby, which in turned used the recycled water for town cleansing and drain flushing.
The swimming pool was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, who converted the pool into a seawater type. After the war, the public was still unable to access the pool as it was reserved solely for the British servicemen. In 1946, the Municipality took over and switched the pool back to the fresh water one, and upgraded it with full filtration and chlorination system. After three years of repair and a cost of $36,000, it was finally opened to a delighted public.
Other Early Swimming Pools
The Haw-Par Swimming Pool, also known as Pasir Panjang Swimming Pool, was built in the late 1930s and officially opened in October 1940 by the Chinese Consul-General Kao Ling-Pai. Costing $50,000 in construction, the pool was considered a modern facility during that era. It had an electric pump to empty and refill the 36.6m by 12.2m pool within a few hours, thus allowing the pool to be fully utilised every day of the year.
The premises of the swimming pool included accommodation for the swimmers, shower baths and changing rooms, and a restaurant and bar to satisfy the visitors’ appetites after their swim. The admission charge to the swimming pool was 10c in its initial years of operation.
Built just before the Second World War at Deptford Road, the Sembawang Swimming Complex was used to serve the British, Australian and New Zealand servicemen and their families. It was later opened to the public but attendance declined sharply in the late eighties, even after its swimming facilities were upgraded in 1984. In 1990, the swimming complex with its other sports facilities were returned to the Singapore Land Authority (formerly Land Office), which in turn, leased it to the US Marines.
The Yan Kit Swimming Complex was the second swimming facility in Singapore opened to the public. Opened in December 1952, it was situated at Yan Kit Road at Tanjong Pagar, where its name was attributed to Look Yan Kit (1849-1931). A Cantonese dentist who first plied his trade in Hong Kong, Look Yan Kit later came to Singapore in 1877 and became a wealthy rubber plantation owner. He was also one of the founding fathers of Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital built in 1910.
The site where Yan Kit Swimming Complex stood was formerly a stretch of the old railway line. It was a densely populated area, in which the swimming pool was surrounded by attap houses between the fifties and seventies. Yan Kit Swimming Complex had witnessed tremendous changes in its surrounding environment in its fifty-odd years’ history. The kampongs were replaced by flats and commercial buildings, while the swimming pool itself was shut down and abandoned after 2001.
The plans to give this aging swimming complex a new lease of life never materialised, as it would cost an estimated $4 million to upgrade the facilities and a further $400,000 for annual maintenance. In 2012, with no alternative plans from both the Singapore Sports Council and the private developers, Yan Kit Swimming Complex was demolished. The empty pools were filled up with concrete, while one of its buildings was preserved.
The Farrer Park Swimming Complex was built in 1957 by the Singapore City Council, a year after the completion of Farrer Park Athletic Centre (FPAC), which was the main training ground for the Singapore national track and field between the fifties and the seventies. Designed by British architect M.E. Crocker, the swimming complex produced one of Singapore’s swimming legends in Ang Peng Siong (see below). For many years, Farrer Park Swimming Complex was supervised by Ang Peng Siong’s father Ang Teck Bee, also an Olympian who had participated in judo in the 1964 Olympics Games.
Farrer Park was named after R.J. Farrer (1873-1956), the former President of the Municipal Commissioners. Farrer had came to Singapore in 1896 at an age of 24, and had held several important posts in other parts of Malaya such as Penang, Kelantan and Ipoh. During his tenure in Singapore, Farrer was in charge of many major projects, such as City Hall, Gunong Pulai waterworks, St. James Power Station and Elgin Bridge. He passed away in his home at St. John Islands in 1956 and was buried at Bidadari Cemetery.
Farrer Park Swimming Complex was shut down in June 2003 after low public utilisation. After its closure, the Singapore Sports Council put the premises up for lease for the private operators.
Due to few sports facilities opened to the public in the fifties, the Singapore City Council decided to building a swimming pool at the former King George V’s Park. It was designed by Crocker, also the designer of Farrer Park Swimming Complex, and was named River Valley Swimming Complex. Officially opened in August 1959, the swimming complex had an Olympic-sized pool and a wading pool, constructed at a cost of $520,000.
After the independence of Singapore, the National Sports Promotion Board and the Singapore Sports Council took over the swimming complex in 1971 and 1973 respectively. As more swimming facilities were built in the new towns in other parts of Singapore, River Valley Swimming Complex went into a decline. Its non-favourable location among commercial buildings and shopping malls meant that few residents would travel far to visit the pools. It was finally shut down in April 2003.
Swimming Pools in the Heartlands
When the Housing and Development Board (HDB) embarked on their projects of public housing estates in the seventies and eighties, swimming facilities, along with other public amenities such as libraries, hawker centres, wet markets and playgrounds, were constructed together with the flats to provide a pleasant and modern living environment for the people.
Almost each new town has its own swimming facilities. Opened in January 1970, the Queenstown Swimming Complex was the first public pool built in a housing estate in Singapore. Designed with a 4m-deep diving pool as well as an Olympic-sized competition pool, Queenstown Swimming Complex was the training ground of the famous water polo team in the seventies.
In 1971, legendary water polo coach Kenneth Kee gathered a group of neighbourhood boys, some of whom could not even swim. Under his strict disciplinary guidance and training regime, the boys emerged as some of Asia’s best water polo players. By the mid-seventies, many Queenstown water polo players represented Singapore in the national team and won many gold medals in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
Soon, other swimming complexes also found their ways into other new towns of Singapore. The next to follow was Toa Payoh Swimming Complex, opened in September 1973. In 1978, the National Survival Swimming Award Scheme was introduced to raise Singaporeans’ proficiency in water survival skills, and students were encouraged to take up swimming lessons as their extra-curriculum activities.
The national mass swim was held at Toa Payoh Swimming Complex in 1978, attracting an impressive 3,561 participants. Singapore was the host of the 12th SEA Games held in 1983, and Toa Payoh Swimming Complex was chosen as the venue of the Games’ swimming events.
Opened in September 1975, Katong Swimming Complex is located along Mountbatten Road and serves the residents at Tanjong Katong and Dakota for more than thirty years. The aging swimming complex has an unique feature; there is a row of animal structures, in shapes of fish, duck and seal, spouting water into the pool.
The Buona Vista Swimming Complex at Holland Drive was opened in September 1976. Also known fondly as the Holland Drive Swimming Complex, it was then considered a modern facility fitted with bi-flow filter system in which the water was continuously drained off the surface and floor of the pool.
Geylang East Swimming Complex was opened in August 1978 at Aljunied Avenue 2. It was closed for several months in 2004 in a massive upgrading project, in which a children waterplay station was added.
Opened in November 1979 and August 1982 respectively, both Delta Swimming Complex and Bukit Merah Swimming Complex shared the responsibility of serving the vast residential region of Redhill, Hendersen, Tiong Bahru and Telok Blangah.
The decision of building the Delta Swimming Complex near Hendersen Road in 1978 caused a massive uproar as HDB planned the swimming complex at the site where an old Buddhist temple stood. Built in 1858, the temple, known as Tang Suahn Kiong San Soh Hoo Chu Buddhist Temple or Kuan Kong Temple, had a rich 120-year history and was extremely popular with its devotees.
The site acquisition notice was served to the temple in 1973, with a compensation amount of $184,000, but the trustees of the temple and its devotees felt that the sacred building should be preserved. In September 1978, three bulldozers were ordered to block the paths leading to the temple, leading to its isolation and much to the disgust of the public. Policemen were deployed as the bulldozers forced their way in. Eventually, the temple caretakers had to pack the place up and relocate.
The larger Bukit Merah Swimming Complex, located beside the Bukit Merah Bus Interchange and occupies a large 21,000 square metres site, consists of three pools and buildings with dome-shaped roofs.
At the start of the eighties, more public swimming facilities were built for the convenience of the residents living in the new housing estates. In a space of three years, six swimming complexes were constructed at some of the biggest upcoming new towns of Singapore, namely the Paya Lebar Swimming Complex (opened in September 1981), Bedok Swimming Complex (December 1981), Kallang Basin Swimming Complex (March 1982), Ang Mo Kio Swimming Complex (May 1982), Bukit Merah Swimming Complex (August 1982) and Clementi Swimming Complex (August 1983).
Unlike many other swimming complexes, the Paya Lebar Swimming Complex was built by the Urban Renewal Authority for the Singapore Sports Council. It was officially opened in September 1981 by then MP for Paya Lebar Sia Kah Hui. Standing along the quiet Aroozoo Road at Upper Serangoon Road, the swimming facilities had less than average number of attendance. It also received negative feedback due to its cleanliness and security. Paya Lebar Swimming Complex was eventually shut down in the 2000s and put up for lease by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). The premises is now being used as a childcare center.
The design of the distinctive triangular roofs of the red-bricked Ang Mo Kio Swimming Complex, located along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1, had helped it won the Singapore Institute of Architects’ Architectural Design Award in 1986.
The Clementi Swimming Complex at Clementi Avenue 2 has three swimming pools; two rectangular and one palm-shaped pool. The swimming complex, surrounded by lush greenery, is designed in such a way that its three buildings stand parallel to each other in the southwestern direction.
As more new housing estates were being developed in the late eighties, HDB continued their plan of building swimming facilities in each of the new town centres. The addition of Yio Chu Kang Swimming Complex (opened in July 1986), Hougang Swimming Complex (May 1987), Yishun Swimming Complex (March 1988), Bukit Batok Swimming Complex (April 1988), Woodlands Swimming Complex (August 1989) and Tampines Swimming Complex (December 1989) had brought a total of 11 swimming complexes constructed in a single decade.
In the nineties, only Bishan Swimming Complex (opened in December 1991) and Serangoon Swimming Complex (March 1995) were built. This might be due to the property boom in Singapore in which dozens of condominiums with private swimming facilities mushroomed in many residential parts of Singapore. The property boom first began in the early nineties and reached its peak by 1996, before the bubble was ultimately burst by the Asian financial crisis in 1997.
The New Millennium
Jurong East Swimming Complex (opened in March 2000) became the first public swimming complex to be completed in the new millennium. It was then followed by Choa Chu Kang Swimming Complex (May 2001), Jalan Besar Swimming Complex (June 2003), Jurong West Swimming Complex (November 2006) and Sengkang Swimming Complex (August 2008). The latest is Pasir Ris Swimming Complex (July 2011), bringing the total of public swimming complexes managed by the Singapore Sports Council to 25.
Other Swimming Complexes
There was a swimming facility along Corporation Road in the early seventies known as Jurong Town Swimming Pool. It was managed by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), which was responsible in building flats and amenities for its residents working at the developing Jurong industrial area. Also opened to the public for an admission charge of 40c, the swimming pool was renovated and repaired several times until it eventually shut down in the late eighties.
The former Nanyang University became the first tertiary institution in Singapore to have a complete sport complex when its $4.2 million facilities, including an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a 13.5m-deep diving pool, were completed in 1976. In the same year, the Raffles Institution had their own swimming complex officially opened by then Minister for Law & The Environment E.W. Barker.
The Swimming Clubs
Established in 1894, the Singapore Swimming Club was the first swimming club in Singapore. Originally known as the Swimming Club Singapore, it was formed by a group of young European men who had their occasional gatherings at the beach of Tanjong Rhu. An perfect location for swims, sandwiches and tea, the Europeans mooted the idea of having a permanent recreational facility built.
In 1893, the club was formed at an attap house rented from a Malay fisherman. A year later, a nearby bungalow was rented to serve as the clubhouse of about 20 members. Accessibility to the new swimming club was not easy as members had to travel via a sampan from Johnston’s Pier. The Swimming Club Singapore was officially opened in February 1894.
Membership of the club grew steadily, with its membership fee remained at $1 per month over the years. By 1900, there were more than 100 members. In 1931, the club changed its name to Singapore Swimming Club and added a pool to its club facilities. It was a sensational headline in the newspapers of Malaya and Singapore, and membership soon ballooned to 2,000. The prosperity and popularity of the club was, however, disrupted by the Second World War. It never really managed to recover since then, due to the instability of the society and the imminent withdrawal of the British soldiers and their families.
The club first accepted female members in the early 1920s, but it would remain a “white only” club for another 40 years until the independence of Singapore, when former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew ordered all British clubs in Singapore to discontinue their discriminative rules. All races were welcomed to join the club since 1963.
While the Europeans had their Singapore Swimming Club, the local Chinese enjoyed swimming at the Chinese Swimming Club, formed in 1909. First started as a weekly event during Sundays to swim and play water polo at the Tanjong Katong beach, the six local Peranakan baba (Straits Chinese) decided to form a club when other participants joined the water games.
Their clubhouse was first established at Chapel Road, before moving permanently to the current site of Amber Road. In 1939, a new three-storey clubhouse and a 25m concrete seawater-filled swimming pool were built. However, the club met its worst moment during the Second World War when it was occupied by the Japanese forces. The Kempeitai (Japanese Military Police) used the clubhouse as an interrogation building and the platform of the swimming pool as a massacre site of the Chinese.
After the war, the clubhouse was in a derelict state. The turning point of the club was in 1947, when the offering of a life-time membership at $100 helped to attract more than 600 members. With enough funds raised, the club was able to build an Olympic-sized pool in 1951. Today, the Chinese Swimming Club has over 7,000 members and possesses a $27.4-million Sports Complex, completed in 2005.
Other early swimming clubs included the Tiger Swimming Club, Cantonese Swimming Union and the Oversea Chinese Swimming Club, which forms the Singapore Amateur Swimming Association (SASA) in 1939 together with the Singapore Swimming Club, Chinese Swimming Club and YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). SASA was renamed as the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) in 2002.
The Katong Park Bathing Pagar became one of the locals’ favourite place of leisure when it was opened in December 1931 by W. Bartley, the President of the Municipal Commissioners. The 45m by 30m swimming area was Singapore’s first public swimming enclosure. Its facilities included 40 dressing rooms and a raised platform that extended into the sea. It was a common sight to see kids swimming in their floats, while others enjoyed tanning in the sun.
Another Katong landmark situated near to the bathing pagar was the old Seaview Hotel, built in the mid-1930s. Both the pagar and the hotel were demolished in the sixties due to the land reclamation.
Sentosa Swimming Lagoon was opened in August 1974 as part of the promotion efforts by the Sentosa Development Corporation, established since 1972 for the recreational development of the island.
In the mid-seventies, the Sentosa Development Corporation cooperated with the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) to develop Kusu Island and Pulau Hantu. Swimming lagoons, jetties and hawker centres were built. However, the plans to turn the islands into holiday resorts did not really went on well. Instead, Kusu Island remains better known as a religious pilgrimage for the devotees, while Pulau Hantu becomes a popular venue for nature lovers.
Constructed at a cost of $4 million, the East Coast Lagoon was opened in April 1976 to the delight of the Marine Parade residents. Formed using a barrier that separated the sea, the oval-shaped lagoon, equivalent to almost 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools, was able to accommodate as many as 6,000 swimmers at any time. The popularity of the lagoon declines in recent years, but the East Coast Lagoon Food Village, situated beside the lagoon, remains as one of the most popular hawker centres in Singapore. The lagoon is currently being used as a ski park.
The Water-Theme Parks
The Big Splash was probably the best known water-theme park in Singapore. Occupying a 2.8 hectare site at East Coast Park, the privately owned recreational centre was opened in 1976 at a cost of $6 million. Its iconic colourful 85m-long waterslides with five lanes of different heights soon became the unmistakable landmark of East Coast.
After more than two decades of operation, the water-theme park was shut down by the mid-2000s due to dwindling attendance and rising cost. In 2008, Big Splash made a comeback, without its already-demolished waterslides. The new Playground @Big Splash was revamped as a lifestyle hub, featuring bars, seafood restaurants and a indoor mini golf course.
While there was Big Splash in the east of Singapore, the western side had Mitsukoshi Garden. Designed with massive waterslides almost equivalent to Big Splash, Mitsukoshi Garden was, however, less well-known as compared to their rival at East Coast. The water-theme park was co-owned by Mitsukoshi Limited, the largest departmental store chain in Japan, Yamakuni Iron Co. Limited and a Singaporean by the name of Akiko Aw.
Located at Japanese Garden Road, Mitsukoshi Garden lasted less than five years. It was completed and opened in April 1979, but was sold to a Japanese restaurant chain West Overseas Co. Private Limited for $4.5 million in June 1983, which spent a further $3 million in the renovation and addition of restaurants, gymnasium and tennis and squash courts. The premises was later known as CN West Leisure Park.
Today, the youngsters are more familiar with the Wild Wild Wet at Downtown East.
Swimming Across the Singapore River
The Singapore River used to be the lifeline of the country, where different communities lived and work by the sides of the river. It was also the playground for the kids, who would jump and swim in the waters, as depicted by local sculptor Chong Fah Cheong’s masterpiece “First Generation”.
By the late seventies, the Singapore River, however, had gained a notorious reputation. It was filled with garbage, dead animals, tongkangs and twakows (bumboats). In 1977, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew launched a decade-long campaign (1977-1987) to clean up the Singapore River and the Kallang Basin.
Pig and poultry farms near the Kallang Basin were phased out, 5,000 street hawkers along the river were resettled at the markets and hawker centres elsewhere, and 800 bumboats were towed to Pasir Panjang.
By 1984, the water in the Singapore River was clean enough that a mass swim was organised in mid-May. Some 400 brave participants took the plunge for the first ever swim across the Singapore River.
It was a rainy day, but the participants, including former Parliamentary Secretary of Education Ho Kah Leong and former Minister of State (Culture) Fong Sip Chee, completed the memorable feat.
Our Swimming Legends
Perhaps the most famous swimmer in Singapore, Ang Peng Siong‘s (born 1962) illustrious swimming career between 1977 and 1993 included being the world’s fastest 50m freestyle swimmer in 1982, won a total of 20 gold medals in the SEA Games and held national records of 50m free style (unbroken), 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly (both held for more than 30 years).
The three-time “Sportsman of the Year” (1982-1984) also clinched a gold medal in the 100m freestyle swimming competition at the 9th Asian Games in India, and represented Singapore in the Olympic Games held in the United States two years later.
“Golden Girl” Patricia Chan Li Yin (born 1954), also fondly known as Pat Chan, was the dominating female swimmer at the early SEA Games. The two-time Olympian won 8 golds at the 3rd SEA Games at an age of only 11. It was the year 1965, when Singapore had just became independent. The new nation was greatly excited by Pat Chan’s remarkable performance, and the national anthem touched many when it was first played at the medal-awarding ceremony.
Pat Chan went to win 29 more gold medals in the next four SEA Games, and a couple of silver and bronze Asian Games 1966 and 1970, before retiring from swimming in 1973. She was only 19 then.
13 year-old Junie Sng Poh Leng (born 1966) caused a stir at the Asian Games at Bangkok in 1978 when she shocked her Japanese opponents by winning two golds and breaking the records in the 400m and 800m freestyle. Three years later, Junie Sng went on to win seven golds in the SEA Games at Manila.
Pat Chan’s national record of 39 golds stood for 32 years until it was overtaken by another “golden girl” Joscelin Yeo Wei Ling (born 1979). Joscelin Yeo first competed in the SEA Games in 1991, winning two silvers and three bronzes. Two years later, she announced her arrival at the region’s swimming arena with a personal best of nine golds and one silver. In the next four SEA Games, Joscelin Yeo bagged a total of 40 golds, the only SEA GAmes athlete to do so.
In 1983, the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) produced an eight-episode drama named The Flying Fish (小飞鱼). Dubbed as Singapore’s first idol drama, it catapulted actor Wang Yu Qing to national fame and inspired many youngsters to take up swimming.
A couple of years later, there were three more swimming-related dramas produced (Splash to Victory 绿水英姿 in 1989, The Champion 任我遨游 in 2004 and No Limits 泳闯琴关 2010) but none was as memorable as The Flying Fish.
In December 2010, a 18-year-old recruit serving his Basic Military Training (BMT) at Pulau Tekong tried the unthinkable by attempting to swim towards Singapore mainland. He was picked up by the Police Coast Guard in the waters near Pulau Tekong Kechil.
Published: 10 January 2013
Updated: 27 August 2018