Toa Payoh Rise’s Past and Present

Relatively undisturbed for the past 50 years, Toa Payoh Rise may see a big change in the coming years, due to its location being one of the areas that will be affected by the construction of the North-South Corridor, Singapore’s 11th expressway.

Located off Thomson Road, Toa Payoh Rise was initially called Toa Payoh Road, but due to the similarity in the name with Jalan Toa Payoh in the same locality, the then-City Council decided to rename it Toa Payoh Rise in 1961. In the early seventies, the secluded road got many taxi drivers confused about its location, as many of them thought it was situated within Toa Payoh estate.

In 1973, the Singapore Association for the Blind even wrote to the authority, suggesting to change Toa Payoh Rise to Jalan Buta (buta refers to blind in Malay), Blind Rise or White Cane Road. The name “white cane” would raise awareness to the motorists, so that they could take extra care of the numerous blind pedestrians in the vicinity. The Committee on Street Names, however, ruled that the name Toa Payoh Rise would not be altered.

Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped

Founded in 1951, the Singapore Association for the Blind was one of the establishments at Toa Payoh Rise in the early seventies, where it set up its industrial centre and workshop for the visually impaired to learn various skills in carpentry, baskets making and other handicrafts. The association was renamed Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped in 1987.

The junction between Toa Payoh Rise and Thomson Road was once an accident-prone area due to speeding vehicles and a lack of road safety features for both the pedestrians from the Blind School and patients from Thomson Road Hospital. Safety First Campaigns had to be introduced in the seventies to create awareness for the motorists approaching Thomson Road and Toa Payoh Rise.

Thomson Road Hospital/Toa Payoh Hospital

The most prominent landmark at Toa Payoh Rise was the former Thomson Road Hospital, officially opened on 19 May 1959 by former Minister for Health Armand Joseph Braga (1900-1968).

Built for the chronic sick, the hospital was established to meet the increasing public demands for medical services in Singapore, which, by the late fifties, were struggling as the then-Sepoy Lines General Hospital (present-day Singapore General Hospital) could not accommodate the large number of patients.

Thomson Road Hospital’s foundation was laid on a small hill at Toa Payoh Rise in 1957, and its construction took about two years, at a cost of $4.5 million. At the start of its operation in 1959, it had a medical team made up of only two doctors and seven nurses.

The sixties saw Thomson Road Hospital rapidly picking up in both its capabilities and reputation. Postgraduate clinical training was given to local as well as overseas physicians. This was followed by formal nursing training when the hospital established the School of Nursing for Pupil Assistant Nurse in 1965.

In the same year, Thomson Road Hospital also added a new extension block with 500 beds and other facilities. It aided the hospital, in the next several years, to become capable in providing general and specialised medical services such as neurosurgery, obstetrics, gynaecology, neonatology and orthopaedic surgery. In 1968, it was renamed Thomson Road General Hospital, Singapore’s second general hospital after Singapore General Hospital.

The hospital continue to grow in the seventies. In 1975, it changed its name again – this time to Toa Payoh Hospital, named after the new satellite town in its close proximity. Toa Payoh Hospital, by the eighties and nineties, was operating in almost full capacity due to the development and maturing of nearby new towns in Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Yishun. A new site had to be sourced as it was obvious that Toa Payoh Hospital could no longer cope with the demands.

On 15 February 1997, the 38-year-old Toa Payoh Hospital officially ceased its operations. A year later, it was merged with Changi Hospital to become Changi General Hospital located at Simei. The old premises of Toa Payoh Hospital was initially intended to be taken over by Ren Ci Community Hospital, but the plan did not materialise. They were eventually demolished in the late nineties.

In the seventies, there were appeals by the public to construct another road to Toa Payoh Hospital, which was accessible only via the narrow Toa Payoh Rise. The traffic condition was sometimes made worse by the congestion at its junction with Thomson Road. To ease Thomson Road’s traffic issues, the Public Works Department (PWD) in 1979 constructed a new three-carriageway Marymount Road that included a flyover across Braddell Road. An overhead pedestrian bridge was also built across Thomson Road, at the bus stop near its junction with Toa Payoh Rise.

Marymount Convent

Another landmark at Toa Payoh Rise was Marymount Convent, which had its roots linked to the Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd originated in France.

One of the Good Shepherd Sisters named Mother Ligouri Burke came to Singapore in 1939, and was given a plot of land along Thomson Road in 1947 by the British government to start the Convent of the Good Shepherd. The convent, upon completion, was officially opened on 29 May 1950 by the Governor of Singapore Sir Franklin Gimson.

In late 1950, the Catholic premises was in the spotlight when Dutch girl Maria Hertogh (also called Nadra) was temporarily placed in the convent’s Girls’ Home during the high profile custody battle. The arrangement sparked off a riot and resulted in hundreds of protesters trying to force their way into the convent. The police had to step in to prevent the forced intrusion. The authority later relocated Maria Hertogh and her biological mother to St. John’s Island, before sending them to Kallang Airport where they boarded the plane to Holland.

In 1958, a convent school, with a kindergarten, was established at Marymount Convent, with Maurice O’Neil appointed as its first principal. Many of the girl students received their educations at Marymount Convent School since young, starting from the convent’s kindergarten until the completion of their primary and secondary school classes.

In 1971, the school added a Home Economics unit in 1971 for cookery and sewing classes. By the mid-nineties, Marymount Convent School became a sole primary school after its secondary school classes were phased out. Going through a rebuilding period in the late nineties, the school was reopened in its new premises at 20 Marymount Road in 1999. Today, the school has more than 1,400 students in 40 classes.

Lions Home for the Elders

Situated next to Marymount Convent was formerly a vacant single-storey building about 830 square metres in size. A solid bunker that had saved many lives during the Second World War air raids, the building was forgotten over the years, and was “illegally” used by Chinese worshippers to release snakes after their prayers for their loved ones at Toa Payoh Hospital.

In 1983, the former bomb shelter was finally put into good use when the Ministry of Social Affairs collaborated with the Lions Clubs of Singapore to convert the building into a nursing home for the elderly and aged sick.

The Lions Clubs, which was in charge of a convalescent home at Ang Mo Kio, raised about $300,000, half of the total cost, to renovate the bunker, giving it fresh coats of paint and installing new windows, kitchen and dining hall. Medical equipment and beds were also procured for the home’s capacity of 60 patients.

The Lions Home for the Elders was officially opened in November 1985 by Suppiah Dhanabalan, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Community Development.

Toa Payoh Rise Apartments

Tucked by the side of a quiet minor lane off Toa Payoh Rise is a row of four blocks of apartments that used to serve as housing quarters for the Toa Payoh Hospital’s medical staffs. When Toa Payoh Hospital was closed and demolished in the late nineties, the three-storey apartments were left vacated for a period of time before being leased out as private apartments.

In 2011, the Circle Line’s Caldecott MRT Station was completed and opened beside the apartments, but the vicinity remained secluded. The apartments are some of the buildings at Toa Payoh Rise that are affected by the development of the North-South Corridor. The tenants of the apartments have since moved out, as the empty buildings are awaiting for their demolition, expected to begin in mid-2018.

Other Toa Payoh Rise landmarks included the former Toa Payoh Girls’ Home, previously located beside the Singapore Association for the Blind (Visually Handicapped), First Toa Payoh Primary and Secondary Schools and the Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks of 164, 165, 166 and 167 (the HDB flats and schools had been demolished).

Established in 1967 to replace the Girls’ Homecraft Centre at Yorkhill, the social welfare home, consisted of several blocks of flatted dormitories, served as a rehabilitation centre for juvenile girls with family, relationship and other social issues and difficulties.

Toa Payoh Girls’ Home was closed in the 2000s, with its operations shifted to Singapore Girls’ Home at Defu Avenue. Its old vacant buildings at Toa Payoh Rise were subsequently demolished by local construction company Leong Hin Seng.

Published: 15 June 2018

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