Rochor Canal As A Historic Waterway

Rochor Canal As A Historic Waterway

Rochor Canal Road

The Rochor Canal was once an integral part of Singapore’s waterway system, helping to move goods and people around the island. Today, the canal is a popular tourist attraction, offering visitors a glimpse into Singapore’s past. With its narrow streets and traditional architecture, the Rochor Canal district is a unique place to explore.

History of Rochor Canal Road

A 1.1-kilometre stretch of Rochor Canal reopened on March 8, 2015, after a four-year renovation, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The revitalised length begins at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority headquarters on Victoria Street and continues to Sim Lim Tower in Jalan Besar. The revitalization of the Regent’s Canal, which was formerly gloomy and polluted, has been praised for transforming a dirty canal into a clean pedestrian-friendly riverfront – complete with benches, public plazas, and rain gardens.

The Rochor Canal project. Source (DAT instruments)
A revitalised Rochor Canal (updated Mar 2015). Source (George’s Photos of Singapore Gardens, Parks and Park Connectors Blog)

The Rochor Canal was more than a filthy canal or a substantial storm drain. It divided two historic settlements of Kampong Glam and Little India as a waterway that connected two distinct areas. It was also a source of water for several businesses and a major thoroughfare for transportation in early Singapore. Indeed, calling it a historic river is somewhat of an overstatement.

Boats and river transportation have previously fulfilled the function of transporting products across the water. Bumboats also plied the Singapore River and quays, as well as lesser-known waterways. They also used canals and streams such as the Kallang River, Rochor River, and Rochor Canal to ship goods.

1955 – WATER BUFFALOES, SINGAPORE. Source (Pinterest)

Historical Singapore Canal

Bumboats at Rochor River and Canal. Source (Flickr)
Bridge over Rochor waterway. Source (Pinterest)

The Rochor Canal, which starts near Bukit Timah, is a continuation of a canal that begins at the Bukit Timah area and extends all the way to Pagoda Street. The canal that runs through the middle of Rochor is named Rochor Canal, although there is also a section after the Kandang Kerbau Bridge known as Rochor Canal. The road descends into the Singapore River. It finishes at Victoria Bridge, where it continues as Rochor River. It is one of the five waterways that empty into Marina Reservoir.

The Rochor Canal, built in the early 1800s, gave birth to one of Singapore’s first industries – the cattle trade. Cattle commerce thrived on the natural pasture-fed by the Rochor Canal’s waters. The presence of this legacy is still felt today, with many roads in Little India known after it, such as Belilios Road (after a famous cattle trader), Buffalo Road, Desker Road (after an abbatoir merchant), and Kerbau Road (kerbau means cattle in Malay). In Malay, the term “kandang kerbau” refers to a pen for buffalo or cattle.

Other industries grew as a result of the cattle trade’s development. The first municipal incinerators were built along Jalan Besar, and more municipal abbatoirs followed. Further down the canal were rubber Factories, ice works, and secondhand goods markets. The oldest is the Sungei Road Thieves’ Market, Singapore’s first flea market, which will soon be closed as construction on Jalan Besar MRT Station approaches.

Transformed Rochor Canal a hit with residents. Source (The Straits Times)
Victoria Bridge School. Source (

There were a few hamlets near Rochor Canal. Kampong Kapur was a largely Malay settlement in the nineteenth century when it was known as Desker Road and Veerasamy Road, while Kampong Boyan was a 19th-century mixed community on Syed Alwi Road. Both villages vanished as a result of local development and land reclamation projects in the 1920s.

Kampong Kapur Road and Jalan Boyan were named in their honour. The original still exists today in Little India’s heart, but the latter has vanished owing to the construction of public housing on King George’s Avenue in the 1980s.

Transformed Rochor Canal a hit with residents. Source (The Straits Times)
Rochor Canal. Source (PUB)
Jalan Kubor Cemetery is the last untouched green space in the Rochor Canal vicinity. Source (Words on Stone)

Many landmarks along Rochor Canal have vanished, but a few have survived, such as the Malabar Mosque, Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah, Sungei Road Thieves’ Market, and Jalan Kubor cemetery.

The Rochor Canal is no longer a means of transportation, and boats and cattle are no longer present. The canal’s restoration will provide residents and visitors with a place to relax and enjoy themselves. The Jalan Kubor cemetery has several tiny pockets of greenery, which adds to the pleasant air. While the man-made rain gardens provide some relief from the city atmosphere, these untouched green areas are the genuine lungs that now breathe new life into Rochor Canal.


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