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Prangin Canal

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Prangin Canal (7 July 2008)

Prangin Canal is a waterway that used to mark the limits of George Town. The canal was originally a river that flowed into the swampy coastline as it emptied into the sea.

After George Town was established, the Prangin River became a vital waterway where sampans and perahus bring goods from the harbour into the hinterland. Indeed, as recently as the 1950's, tongkangs and perahus were still going up the Prangin Canal to bring produce to the Sia Boey Market.

The stagnant Prangin Canal, George TownThe stagnant Prangin Canal, George Town (4 December, 2008)

The original river ended at the junction of Jalan Sungai Ujong (the name means "river end") Over time, it was turned into a canal, and extended to the junction of Transfer Road, which was created around 1867.

I had a meeting with the state government last year (2009), as they were interested in rehabilitating that part of George Town, and I happened to have done the research into its history. According to engineers at the MPPP (Penang Island Municipal Council), that part of George Town was swampy land, and the canal was originally a river through the mangrove swamps. This sounds logical, considering Carnarvon Street was known as Lau Chan'ah, meaning "wet rice fields".

In the 19th Century, George Town reached only to the Prangin Canal. The edge of town along the Prangin Canal was called Sia Boey in Hokkien, meaning "Town's End". Across there river, where Maxwell Road is located, there was a Chinese village called Kuay Kang-nga, meaning "across the river".

A few plank bridges crossed the Prangin Canal, connecting the "town side" to the "country side". It should be remembered that none of the shophouses we see today in the area beyond the Prangin Canal existed until the late 19th Century, when they were built to replace the attap huts which were there.

When George Town extended across the Prangin Canal, a new set of seven parallel roads were built in the Kuay Kang-nga settlement. These seven main roads gave the place its name of Seven Streets Precinct, or Chit Tiau Lor. (In fact there are more than seven streets.)

While the English roadnames honored members of the European merchant community, the Hokkien names for the nine roads follow a numbering system according to their proximity to Prangin Canal. Ergo, Magazine Road was Thau Tiau Lor, or "1st St." - that's an abbreviation of Kuay Kang-nga Thau Tiau Lor, meaning "1st St. Across the River". The last one was Sandilands Street, which is Kau Tiau Lor in Hokkien.

At the seaward end of Prangin Canal was Anson Bridge, named after Archibald Anson, the Lieutenant Governor of Penang from 1867-1882 (read Governors of the Straits Settlements). The bridge is gone (correction: the bridge is still there, but not very visible, I checked March 2010 and have photos to show, read Anson Bridge), but the name lives on elsewhere as a major road in Penang. Anson Bridge linked Beach Street to Bridge Street, which continued into the hinterland. Until the land reclamation of 1880, these two streets were located by the sea shore, and the Malays called this area Hujung Pasir.

At the other end of Prangin Canal was a drawbridge across Penang Road, and the Hokkien called that area of town Tiau Keo Th'au (meaning "head of the drawbridge"). The Malays called it Titi Papan, and the name is commemorated by Masjid Titi Papan nearby.

The Prangin Canal connected to another ditch at Transfer Road. The ditch emptied into the sea at North Beach, creating an island out of the inner city of George Town. At that time, small sampans could come down from the north all the way to Keramat Dato Koyah.

The area marked by the Prangin Canal and that long-gone ditch is the approximate location of the present-day core zone of the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site.

The name Sia Boey became synonymous with the wholesale market that existed along the Prangin Canal through the 20th Century. The Sia Boey market was relocated a few years ago to Kompleks Pulau Mutiara at Macallum Street Ghaut, while the area along the Prangin Canal, where the market used to occupy, is awaiting redevelopment.

Today much of Prangin Canal has been filled up. The small section that is still visible is located where the Sia Boey market used to be.The redevelopment of the area around the Prangin Canal area may spell the end of the historic canal, so it is hoped that this article will ensure the history is not lost.

Getting there

From the Komtar Bus Terminal, walk along Lebuh Tek Soon and then turn left into Lebuh Lintang, which is under Prangin Mall. At the junction of Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong, turn right, walk along the road until you reach the disused Sia Boey Market building. The Prangin Canal is located behind the market building.

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