S’pore’s first public swimming pool was converted from a reservoir, opened in 1931

It was a really popular hangout in the past.

By Tanya Ong | June 15, 2017

In Singapore’s sweltering heat, it comes as no surprise that swimming pools are an extremely popular place for people to cool off.

Their popularity can be traced back to the setting up of Singapore’s first public pool.

In 1931, Mount Emily Swimming Pool – Singapore’s first public pool – was opened to the public.

Located along Upper Wilkie Road, Mount Emily Swimming Pool was originally a reservoir.

1878 map screenshot from NAS


The white building photographed in the top left is the Istana. Photo from NAS

With the completion of Fort Canning reservoir in 1929, Mount Emily reservoir was no longer required to supply water to downtown Singapore.

So, the colonial authorities created a swimming pool and park at Mont Emily for the public to chillax at in the tropical heat.

1945 map screenshot from NAS

Mount Emily Swimming Pool used fresh water, unlike swimming enclosures by the sea that used seawater. It was modern by 1930s-standards. The pool’s water was filtered and chlorinated (like modern ones today) instead of the old practice of periodically draining swimming pools and refilling them.

While admission fees to public pools today would cost you $1-$2 depending on the day of week and type of pool, admission charges to Mount Emily Swimming Pool ranged from 10 to 20 cents. But of course, times were different and so was the value of money. In the 1950s, for example, 10 cents could probably buy you a bowl of noodles.

Photo from NAS

In its earlier years, mixed bathing was disallowed. Male and female users could swim only during particular bathing periods on designated days of the week.

This was a common practice in many swimming pools of the same time period, including Yan Kit Swimming Pool.

As time went by, other swimming pools gradually abolished ‘women-only’ days and allowed mixed bathing seven days a week. However, Mount Emily Swimming Pool would retain the ‘women-only’ practice on Tuesdays and Fridays.

In the 1970s, the venue became so popular that a queue would form even before the pool opened.

According to Straits Times in 1972, it was not unusual to have nearly 1,000 people waiting in line to get in.

And unfortunately, since the place could only accommodate up to 700 people at any given time, many had to wait for their turn or try again another day.

Some of these pool-goers had no chill though. They actually “expressed their disappointment by banging and shaking the collapsible gates” until the police had to be called.

In the 1970s and 1980s, public swimming pools were built in various housing estates, and fewer people frequented the inaccessible Mount Emily, forcing it to close down in 1981.

Photo of Mount Emily Park in 1993 from NAS

The pool was eventually demolished and the site was converted to Mount Emily Park, which still exists today.


Here are totally unrelated but equally interesting articles:

The Caveman Review: Masks your face can eat

McDonald’s vanilla soft serve has turned yellow and we are freaking out


Top photo from NAS

If you like what you read, follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest updates.

About Tanya Ong

Tanya is a keen bean who strives to put the “art” in “articulate”. She also knows pi to the 35th decimal place for absolutely no reason at all.

Morning Commute

Interesting stories to discuss with your colleagues in office later