Fifty years, fifty old and new photos of Singapore, and fifty familiar names, events and landmarks that helped to shape and define Singapore between 1965 and 2015.
To celebrate SG50, let us take a look at Singapore’s enormous progress and achievements as a new nation in the past five decades.
With tears in his eyes, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announced the separation of Singapore from Malaysia on 9 August 1965. A new nation was born.
Singapore held its first ever National Day Parade (NDP) at the City Hall on the morning of 9 August 1966, where six People’s Defence Force contingents participated.
The National Service (Amendment) Act was passed and came into effect on 17 March 1967. Around 9,000 male youths were called up to form the country’s first batch of national servicemen.
Established on 1 June 1968, the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) was tasked with the development of industrial estates and setting up of factories at Jurong, Kranji and Sungei Kadut.
Developed by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) and completed by Housing and Development Board (HDB), Queenstown, the first satellite town in Singapore, had almost 20,000 dwelling units by 1969.
In 1970, Golden Shoe, lying at the heart of Singapore’s Central Business District (CBD), was embarked in its first urban redevelopment project by the government.
The $3.5-million Jurong Bird Park was opened on 3 January 1971. Home to more than 8,000 birds of 600 species, it is Asia’s largest bird park and has the world’s tallest man-made waterfall.
In 1972, a $5-million street hawkers’ resettlement program was launched with hawker centres built at Serangoon Gardens, MacPherson, St Michael’s Estate and Telok Ayer, following the success of the first hawker centre at Yung Sheng Road, opened a year earlier.
The 50,000-capacity National Stadium had a grand opening on 21 July 1973. For three decades, it had been the venue of many Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Malaysian Cup football matches and National Day Parades.
On 13 November 1974, the Singapore Zoological Gardens, officially opened just 18 months earlier, received its one millionth visitor.
Toa Payoh Town Garden, one of Singapore’s oldest and most iconic parks located in a residential town, was completed and opened in 1975.
The Toa Payoh Town Garden was also home to the first version of the iconic Dragon Playground, which was a hit among children in 1976. It gave rise to the popular locally-designed sand playgrounds at the new towns in the eighties and nineties.
The first Lion City Cup was held at the National Stadium and Jalan Besar Stadium between 8 and 18 December 1977. The Singapore team, featuring a teenage Fandi Ahmad, won the tournament by beating six participating Malaysian states.
The Singapore River in 1978 was filled with goods-ferrying wooden bumboats called tongkangs and twakows. They would be cleared five years later in the River Clean-Up Campaign.
The first National Courtesy Campaign was launched on 1 June 1979, with the catchy slogan “Make Courtesy Our Way of Life”. The iconic mascot Singa would be introduced three years later.
In 1980, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) completed Ang Mo Kio, one of the earliest and largest new towns in Singapore, after seven years of development.
Named after the second President of Singapore, the majestic 1.8km-long Benjamin Sheares Bridge was opened on 29 September 1981 after three years of construction.
To further enhance the popularity of Sentosa as an upcoming resort destination, a monorail system was built and opened in February 1982 to ferry visitors around the island.
Singapore hosted the 12th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), its second hosting after the 7th SEA Games in 1973, between 28 May and 6 June 1983. Singapore finished fourth in the tournament with 38 gold medals, 38 silvers and 58 bronzes.
The iconic National Theatre, dubbed as the “People’s Theatre”, held its last show in January 1984 before the building was demolished two years later.
Singapore’s annual street parade Chingay was held at Orchard Road for the first time on 24 February 1985, attracting thousands of spectators.
Changi Airport welcomed its 10 millionth passenger in 1986 after almost five years of operation. Two decades later, the airport would receive 10 million visitors in just a year.
On 7 November 1987, Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system began operation between North-South (NS) Line’s Yio Chu Kang and Toa Payoh stations.
The first Swing Singapore was held at Orchard Road in August 1988. As many as 250,000 people turned up at the massive street party filled with lights and music.
Dismantled earlier due to the MRT tunnelling works, the century-old Telok Ayer Market was reassembled in 1989 in a $6.8-million renovation project. It was renamed Lau Pa Sat after its completion.
A packed National Stadium rallied to support the Singapore team in a Malaysia Cup game against Kedah in August 1990. Singapore finished as runner-up that season but would go on to win the cup four years later, before its exit of the tournament.
With the completion of the underground tunnels, the last section of the Central Expressway (CTE) was officially opened on 21 September 1991. The completed CTE, 16km long, took almost a decade and $500 million in construction.
City Hall, an important landmark in Singapore during the colonial period, self-government and post-independence eras, was gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 1992.
On 21 September 1993, Ngee Ann City was added to Orchard Road‘s impressive list of popular shopping malls that already boasted of Tangs, Plaza Singapura, The Centrepoint and Wisma Atria.
The Night Safari, the world’s first nocturnal zoo, was opened on 26 May 1994. Occupying an area of 35 hectares at Mandai Lake Road, it cost almost $63 million in its construction.
The 37m-tall tower in the shape of Merlion, Singapore’s famous icon, at Sentosa was completed in late 1995. It was commissioned by the Sentosa Development Corporation and cost $13 million.
Following its exit from the Malaysia Cup, Singapore launched its own domestic league called the Singapore Professional Football League, or S-League, in 1996. The first league winner was Geylang United Football Club.
On 1 October 1997, the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) was corporatised to continue the operation of Singapore’s container terminals, which by then was handling more than 10 million twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) of containers a year.
Composed by Dick Lee and sung by Kit Chan, “Home“, the National Day song commissioned for the 1998 National Day Parade, was one of many Singaporeans’ favourite National Day songs.
The 1999 Singapore Art Festival was held at the Fort Canning Hill, one of Singapore’s earliest recorded landmarks and home to former Majaphahit kings and British governors.
The Fullerton Building, one of the well-known landmarks of Singapore’s historic waterfront, was restored and refurbished into a boutique hotel named Fullerton Hotel, which opened in May 2000.
On 19 January 2001, a new official version of “Majulah Singapura“, Singapore’s national anthem, was launched to make it easier for Singaporeans to sing as many could not reach the high notes in the original version.
The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, or fondly known as “Durian”, was opened on 12 October 2002. It has a 1,600-seat concert hall and a 2,000-capacity performing arts theatre.
Formerly the venue for exhibitions, fairs and conferences, as well as the 1987 Miss Universe Pageant, the World Trade Centre was renovated and reopened on 20 June 2003 as HarbourFront Centre.
The red-bricked National Library, an iconic landmark at Stamford Road, closed its doors for the last time on 31 March 2004, and was subsequently demolished for the construction of Fort Canning Tunnel.
The world-famous Raffles Hotel, known as the “Grand Lady of the Far East” during the colonial times, was sold on 18 July 2005 to an US investment fund. Five years later, it would change hands again, this time to a Qatar sovereign wealth fund.
The former Ford Factory, the historical site where the British officially surrendered to the Japanese during the Second World War, was gazetted as a national monument on 15 February 2006.
In 2007, on its 30th anniversary, the Singapore Science Centre, located at Jurong East, was renamed as Science Centre Singapore.
On 29 September 2008, the first Formula One Singapore Grand Prix race was held at the Marina Bay Street Circuit; it was the first ever night race in Formula One’s history.
In December 2009, the Singapore Flyer created the tallest Christmas tree in Singapore. It was 83m tall and made up of 91,000 LED lights.
Singapore held the first Youth Olympic Games (YOG) between 14 and 26 June 2010, a multi-sport tournament that involved 3,600 young athletes from 205 countries.
Singapore’s signature city skyline welcomed a new addition when the Marina Bay Sands held their grand opening on 17 February 2011.
The National Parks Board’s (NParks) vision of creating a City in a Garden became a reality on 29 June 2012 when the Bay South of Gardens by the Bay was officially opened.
The 5km-long Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE), Singapore’s first underwater expressway and 10th expressway, was officially opened on 29 December 2013.
River Safari, Asia’s first river-themed zoo, was opened on 28 February 2014. It has the world’s largest freshwater aquarium and houses 6,000 animals of 200 species.
On 4 July 2015, the 156-year-old Singapore Botanic Gardens was successfully inscribed as the nation’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We have come a long way. A great 50th birthday to Singapore!
Published: 28 July 2015
Updated: 13 October 2020
The original name Telok Ayer Market should be re-instated
Wonderful…short and sharp, record….many memories.. A Blessed Birthday, Singapore 🙂
Wonderful presentation. Thank you.
Certainly bring us back the memory lane !
Thks and a great 50th birthday SINGAPORE !
The 1990 Malaysia Cup Final was held at the Merdeka Stadium in KL in Dec 1990 rather than the National Stadium in Aug, I was there in KL to support the team but too bad we lost.
My mistake. It wasn’t the final, it was one of the games in that season.
Thanks for pointing it out 🙂
A nice read, written by Prof Tommy Koh
RemSG, though, is unlikely to survive until 2065, when Singapore celebrates SG100
Letter to my grandchildren in 2065
03 August 2015
Dear Toby and Tara,
You will be 54 and 50 years old, respectively, when Singapore celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2065.
If the last 50 years is a guide, you will probably experience as many dramatic changes as I have in the past 50 years. I expect that cures will be discovered for such dreaded diseases as cancer, dementia, diabetes, Parkinson’s. Thus, I fully expect that both of you will continue to lead healthy, productive, energetic lives for many more decades, as life expectancy may exceed 100 by this time.
I expect solar energy to become increasingly competitive and that, one day, it will replace energy from fossil fuels. I expect agriculture to be more productive and less demanding of water. Revolutionary changes will take place in all aspects of our lives, in ways which are unimaginable today.
However, the purpose of my letter is not to join the pundits and futurologists in anticipating the changes that will take place in the next 50 years.
What I want to do is to talk to you about things that I hope will not change. I want to talk about values, beliefs and customs which are or should be timeless.
First, you should love your country.
Singapore may be a small and young country; it is, however, an extraordinary country. If all goes well, we would have remained a stable, peaceful country with our own government, our own military and law enforcement agencies.
In our country, people of different races, colours and religions live in peace and harmony. We celebrate our diversity as a blessing and not as a defect. We recognise and reward talent and merit and we dislike class, privilege and snobbery. We treat our women well and our talented women have helped to make Singapore the success that it is. We are admired for our integrity, reliability and competence. If I have another life to live, I would like to be born again in Singapore.
LOVE THE WORLD
Second, you should love the world.
By “the world”, I mean both the human world and the natural world. I believe in the Confucian philosophy that, under heaven, all men are brothers and all women are sisters. It is not enough to love Singapore – you should also love the human family. Because of globalisation and the technological revolution, we truly live in one world and our lives are inextricably linked. For example, we should be concerned about the growing health crisis in South Korea at this juncture – in July 2015 – because Mers is very likely to spread from there to other countries.
We should empathise with the refugees fleeing persecution and despair in Myanmar because they are part of the Asean family.
Even if, by the time you read this, these countries and organisations have evolved into different forms, we should feel a bond with people around our region, and indeed all around the world, with whom we share a common humanity.
We should also love and respect the natural world because the earth is our home. If we continue to abuse nature, to degrade our ecosystems and neglect our duty as the stewards of the global commons, we will sooner or later face an environmental crisis.
I hope that you and your generation will have the wisdom to make a paradigm shift to a new and more sustainable model of economy and civilisation.
Third, love your family.
No matter how many technological advances are made, one thing is for sure: Your mother and father, your grandparents, your godparents and other relatives have loved you from the day you were born.
Your parents have made sacrifices and will continue to make sacrifices in order to give you a happy childhood and a good start in life. Remember that the key people in the world who love you unconditionally, in good times and in bad times, are your parents. Be good to your parents when you are grown-up and when they are old.
There is a disturbing trend in Singapore of children abandoning their elderly parents. I hope that, by the time you read this, this remains a small minority and does not become commonplace.
MAKE FRIENDS FOR LIFE
Fourth, make friends for life.
Most human beings are social animals. We need the company of good friends in order to be happy and to thrive. Make good friends and keep them for life.
Many Singaporeans hold a functional or transactional attitude towards friends. You are my friend only as long as you are useful to me. The moment you are no longer useful to me, I will “unfriend” you. This is a bad attitude and smacks of opportunism. The good friends I have made in my childhood, school, university and at various points in my career, both here and abroad, have enriched my life.
DO NOT WORSHIP MONEY
Fifth, do not worship money.
There is a joke that the main form of worship in Singapore is the worship of money. Singaporeans are a materialistic and money-loving people.
My attitude towards money is that we all need to make money in order to provide for our family and to be able to lead a dignified life. My goal in life is, however, not to make money but to help build a better Singapore and a better world. You should remember that money can’t buy you good health, peace of mind or a happy family.
In fact, money often sows discord in families. Money can buy you a big house and a big car but not a good reputation. It is more important for you to do a job which brings you joy and satisfaction than a job which you do only because it brings you a lot of money. Pursue your talent and your passion and not money.
Sixth, be a kind person.
Of all the virtues, the one that I value the most is kindness. You should be kind to everyone you meet. Many Singaporeans have a selective approach to kindness. They are kind to their bosses or persons in authority over them. They are less kind towards their subordinates. I do not regard such a person as a kind person.
A kind person is one who is kind to everyone, including strangers. In my experience, kindness begets kindness.
Seventh, be a loyal person.
Loyalty is a virtue which seems to have gone out of fashion. I believe that one should be loyal to one’s country, spouse, school, university, employer, friends and institutions. I am loyal to my old school, Raffles Institution, and have never said no to a request from the school. I am loyal to the National University of Singapore, Harvard and Cambridge because they have helped to educate me.
Because I served for nine years as a director of DBS, it is my primary banker. Because I served for five years as a director of Singtel, I subscribe only to Singtel for my telecommunication needs. Because I served for over five years on the international advisory board of Toyota, I own and operate a car made by Toyota. I have patronised the same tailor and optician for as long as I can remember.
This may be seen by some as an old-fashioned attitude but I would like to think that loyalty, like kindness, should never go out of fashion.
BE HEALTHY AND RICH CULTURALLY
Eighth, try to lead a healthy and culturally rich life.
My father taught me to exercise every day in order to keep physically fit. I swim or walk every morning. My father also taught me to love books and to enjoy reading. I read both books of fiction and non-fiction every day.
My mother taught me to enjoy the arts. I feel very privileged to have served as the founding chairman of the National Arts Council and as the second chairman of the National Heritage Board. I hope you will develop your own interests in culture and the arts. They will bring great joy to your life.
I hope you will grow up to be a good man and a good woman. I wish you happy, healthy, peaceful and productive lives.
Your loving Ye Ye,
Tommy Koh is Ambassador-At-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and special adviser to the Institute of Policy Studies and chairman of the Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore. He was NUS law faculty dean before becoming a diplomat. He has served in Singapore missions in the United States, Mexico, Canada and on United Nations and World Trade Organisation missions and dispute panels.
Is there still a 19th century cemetery on the slopes of Fort Canning Hill please?
The Iskandar Shah Keramat is still there…
Best wishes for the year ahead.