The mouth of the Singapore River was the old Port of Singapore, being naturally sheltered by the southern islands. Historically, the city of Singapore initially grew around the port so the river mouth became the centre of trade, commerce and finance. To this day, area around the old Singapore River mouth, the Downtown Core, remains the most expensive and economically important piece of land in Singapore. At one time, Singapore River was the very lifeblood of the colony, the trade artery, the center of commercial activity, the heart of entrepot trade, the vessel of importance, the capillaries of life.
Starting in the 1880s, there was heavy traffic on the Singapore River due to rapid urbanization and expanding trade. At the same time, it brought in water pollution caused by the disposal of garbage, sewage and other by-products of industries located along the river’s banks. By late 1977, the government was starting to take action to clean up the river. The plan involved the development of infrastructure such as housing, industrial workshops and sewage; massive resettlement of squatters, backyard trades and industries and farmers; re-siting of street hawkers to food centres; and phasing out of polluted activities.
Ten years later in 1987, the clean-up of the Singapore River and Kallang Basin was completed. After the massive clean-up, people can now engage in activities such as wayang performances on a bum boat, variety shows staged on pontoons anchored in the river, and boat races. Today, speedboats, dragon boats, pedal-boats and sampans can be seen plying on the clean waterways of the Singapore River.
The river is now part of the Marina Reservoir after damming the Singapore River at its outlet to the sea to create a new reservoir of freshwater.