Yishun and Sembawang share a history that started before urbanisation kicked off here in the 1970s. In 19th century maps, this entire area stretching from Seletar River to Sungei Sembawang was marked as “Seletar”. The name probably came from the Seletar River. The territories covered by the indigenous nomadic boat-dwellers known as Orang Seletar, also ranged from the Johor Straits to all the waterways here.
The historical links of the new towns do not just end here. Yishun and Sembawang share the same story of development too. From gambier and pepper planting in the 1800s to rubber and pineapple planting in the early 1900s, plantations would usually be established along Seletar River first, before extending towards Sungei Sembawang in the north.
The opening of the Singapore Naval Base in 1938 also led to development in this area. To support the Naval Base, military installations such as airbases and barracks were built in the vicinity. As such, businesses were set up in villages near these bases to meet the needs of the military personnel and their families. Migrants from places such as India also flocked here in search of work in the base. They brought with them their cultures and their legacy is still seen in Yishun and Sembawang today. The many religious buildings that still stand today, the many traditional performing arts groups that made this area their home base and the many old buildings that stand majestically here are all testimony to the rich multicultural and multireligious and colourful heritage of Yishun and Sembawang.
We are working on new research for the Yishun-Sembawang Heritage Trail, and look forward to telling these new stories when they’re ready.