This is what Prangin Canal or Sia Boey in George Town, Penang, looked like in 1830, when the canal was much wider, leading out to the coast, which at that time faced Beach Street (before early land reclamation extended the coastline further away to Weld Quay).
You can see the Acheen Street Mosque at the top left. And the hill in the distance, across the channel, is Bukit Mertajam. The road leading to the bridge over the canal is Beach Street.
Now, look at the two pillars holding up the centrespan of the bridge in the sketch. I spotted them the other day during a visit to the site (below).
Prangin Canal back then was much wider. Among other things, coffin-makers along Carnavon Street used to transport their coffins to the canal, from where it was then shipped out to coastal centres nearby.
The canal itself extended westwards from the coast down to where Transfer Road is now and then turned 90 degrees northwards to emerge at the coastline along Northam Road.
The canal served as a defensive ditch around old George Town; the name Sia Boey itself means the tail end of the town. So it is surprising that the Unesco heritage core zone does not extend right up to this old boundary. Instead, the Unesco core zone is much smaller.
The canal was later narrowed, like so:
Greening work is now being carried out to create a heritage arts district and a park as part of Phase 5 of Komtar. The Ilham Penang art gallery by the Zainuddin Foundation is going to take a huge chunk of the ‘park’.
During the work, some of the remains of the old canal were unexpectedly discovered.
This was near a ‘bypass’ of the old canal, close to the former site of a saw mill, around which the soil is a bit darkened to this day.
Archaeologists and heritage enthusiasts are excited about this new find. Already shards and ceramic pieces have been unearthed, and the area holds promise of being the only site in George Town where the most meaningful archaelogical excavation work can be carried out to unearth the different layers of history of old George Town.
Unfortuntely, if the proponents of the Komtar-Airport elevated LRT system airport have their way, a monstrous LRT station perhaps with a commercial complex attached would have to be constructed over a significant section of this canal and designated park, perhaps over or near the old bridge over the canal in the sketch above.
Such a large station and or complex would not be needed if a street-level interchange is situated nearby, so that the canal and the rest of this heritage area need not be disturbed.
This is another reason why an elevated LRT and monorail system would not be in keeping with the heritage character of George Town – apart from being three to four times more expensive than street-level light rail/new generation trams insfrastructure.
Phase 4 of Komtar was meant to be a park but surprise, surprise (not really), it ended up as a large concrete mall during the BN administration.
Now under Pakatan, Phase 5 of Komtar, which is supposed to be a green heritage area, could end up with a large concrete art gallery at one end and a massive LRT/monorail station complex at the other, leaving only a tiny green patch. So much for parks and a heritage district.
It is still not too late to abandon the expensive elevated LRT and monorail options in favour of a street-level light rail system and bus rapid transit.