It was known as Bukit Larangan ('Forbidden Hill' in Malay) before Stamford Raffles’ arrival in 1819 and was renamed Government Hill to reflect it’s position as a seat of power. Indeed, so taken was Raffles with the area that he set up residence here. It gained its current name in 1860 when a fort was built and named after Viscount Charles John Canning, the Governor-General at that time.
Set as it is on a small hill, in times past the lighthouse towards the top of the hill was a focal point of mariners needing a point of reference at sea. Today, this seems quite unlikely as the park is set a considerable way from navigable water (the pleasure cruisers along the river being the only mariners close by these days). Land reclamation has set the park back from the coast by a considerable margin and the lush vegetation and buildings surrounding it now conceal the lighthouse.
Another notable point of historical interest is a little fresher in our memories. The Battle Box, buried deep beneath Fort Canning, was used for command and communications across Malaya throughout the Second World War. It is also the site for the infamous surrender by Britain to the Japanese in February 1942. The former ‘Underground Far East Command Centre’ is now a museum, which costs around S$5 to visit. It is well worth a look if only to see the size of the place, which at one point accommodated around 500 military personnel. Although relatively simply done, the experience is quite evocative with a dark, dank slightly perturbing feeling as you walk around it and serves as a reminder of how un-glamorous war really is. It leaves quite an eerie impression on the soul.
Just up the hill from the Battle Box is Fort Canning Centre, a magnificently grand building that served as a barracks for the British Army and stands at the top of the slope of Fort Canning Green. Singapore Dance Theatre, who gives performances throughout the year, uses the building as a dance centre. Fort Canning Green, its grassy slopes dropping away from the Centre’s terrace, is the site of many of the concerts, carnivals and performances held in Fort Canning. The levity of the entertainment here belies its history of being a cemetery and tombstones can be seen set in to the boundary walls of the Green.
As you continue to wander the myriad emerald pathways that bisect the park, you find all manner of historic artifacts confronting you and nearly every turn; 9- pounder cannons, an excavation site containing 14th Century relics, the Old Lighthouse, Fort Canning Gate, Keramat Iskandar Shah (a sacred place dedicated to the last ruler of 14th century Singapore) and the James Brooke Napier Memorial. You may even come across the occasional wedding held in the lush, serene area by Raffles’ House.
On the fringes of the park are plenty of eateries (as one finds all over Singapore) with many places to sit and picnic or read at your leisure.
I ate in Flutes at the Fort with friends the last time I ventured there. A very nice, intimate and secluded venue for brunch (which is what we were there for) with a wooden verandah or inside space so you can choose to eat au naturel or air-cooled. However, slightly disappointingly (but not surprisingly) the usual Singapore build-it-up, knock-it-down works were going on nearby. Sufficed to say we ate inside and that was fine. The noise quiet enough not to be intrusive, especially once we'd started talking. Service was very good as the pricing might suggest it should be (although I would say in Singapore, as a rule, don't make a judgement on what the service is likely to be like based on the pricing!). The food was excellent (although they were a little shy about the amount of strawberries on my wife's waffle) and I had a little trouble deciding what I was going eat. Find the 'brunch menu' here if you'd like to look. A very nice way to spend a lazy late breakfast though.