Swimming canal near Hong Kong | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Swimming canal near Hong Kong

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Swimming canal near Hong Kong

I believe this photo is at a location near Hong Kong. My grandfather had a farm or what was referred to as a "farm" near this place. I have other photos showing a large body of water, maybe a bay of some sort, and others showing thatched dwellings such as can be sen in the background of this picture. I am thinking now maybe it was near Tai Tam Valley as there is a similar canal stucture in one photo I saw on Gwulo. I am hoping someone may have a better idea of where this was taken.

Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Monday, January 1, 1917


This doesn't ring any bells with me. With so much sea to swim in around Hong Kong, I'm not sure they'd have gone to the effort to build a swimming canal here. I guess this was taken outside Hong Kong, but I'm happy to be proved wrong.

If you can upload a larger copy of the image it will give us more clues. The houses and mountain in the background would be good to get a closer look at.

Regards, David

I uploaded a medium resolution photo now in hopes that someone can place it. There were other photos that I think were taken at the same time and they are all marked as having been taken in Hong Kong, however I'm sure that referred to Kowloon and surrounding areas. I'm not sure how far afield locals traveled in those times ( mid 1910s )

Thanks for the better resolution. I can't think of anywhere like that in Hong Kong.

I wonder if it was taken at one of the Hill Stations in Asia, where Europeans went to cool off in the summer.

Regards, David

Thanks for looking David. It's getting to be an impossible task with nobody left from that era to consult with. I wish I'd had the pictures when my aunt was alive as she knew everything and was sharp until her death in 2007. She had a very good memory but unfortunately didn't write descriptions on many of the photos. This particular photo was in two pieces and I had thought the two halves were seperate views, but it turned out to be a single panorama shot, which in itself is something now that I think about it. It must have been taken professionally as I doubt the average person would have a camera capable of taking such a shot.

Perhaps its not a canal. With a waterfall inflow at the far end, it may be the lead in to a form of lake area. My thoughts leaned to the Tai Lam area. There is an inland channel next to the Sea Training School. The waterfall inflow also suggests the water in the channel is freshwater rather than seawater - speculation on my part.

There are quite a number of residences on the surrounding hillsides which makes the setting interesting.

Dave W

I wonder if this could be connected with the opening of Tai Tam Reservoir?

Tai Tam Reservoir aquaduct?

I saw some old photos that looked like maybe it could have been in area that was later dammed and flooded, making the view in the photo now underwater? I also noticed the small waterfall area and possibly some sort of bridge across the far end. Oddly there is only one person swimming...a girl, in the lower right corner of the picture, but a lot of spectators so it must have been something of some importance...maybe a swim meet or race to draw such a crowd?

Just one more thing....there's a definite clear area showing on the hill or mountain in the background. Could it be a landslide site? That could shed some light. I've been trying to get geographic views using Google Earth, but nothing distinctive has turned up yet.

More ideas.

Tung Chung hinterland?

Plover Cove before the dam?

When were all the Hong Kong dams built?

I made a headcount of the people on the left bank and there are about 80 ~ 100 all ages. There may be more on the right bank.

Dave W

Bottom left corner is a permanent slatted seat.

Above it is some bunting.

Midway along on the right appears to be a photographer's tripod.

Notice the two stone protusions into the channel on the right side. Could these be steps? Or water outakes? One of the stone protusions has some boys on it perhaps dressed in swimming gear?

The structure partially visible on the right appears to have a thatch roof.

Whoever took the photograph appears to be in a boat midstream, or, on dry land which would make it a rather interesting outdoor swimming pool.

Keep thinking.


     You are correct that the boys are wearing bathing suits and tat is indeed a tripod on the right. Not only that, but it appears to be supporting a movie camera; I would guess 16mm or larger format. It would seem that the occasion was of some importance. As for the clearing that I mentioned on the hill behind...I am now wondering if it might be a rising column of smoke?

The bench on the left does appear to be a permanent fixture. Also I notice that there are several people IN the actual waterfalls...either bathing or?? I have hesitaed to put my larger res photo up as it is about 26 megs, but I can with you permission.

Yes please, the more detail the better. I guess that the website will not accept such a large image, but try it and see - worst case you'll get an error message but it won't break anything.

If it is too big you could keep halving it in size until it is accepted, or slice up the hi-res photo into sections and load them separately so we can get the best detail.

I'm interested to get a closer look at the hillsides and buildings. eg there wasn't any cluster of European buildings like this in Lantau in the 1910s, so it wouldn't be Tung Chung.

Regards, David

I wonder if this is in fact a fresh water reservoir?

To support farming activity, or other agriculture ventures, it would need to be fairly large. In so being it conveniently offers other options:- water for fire fighting; and why not a swimming gala in the hot weather. 

The woman in the water bottom right seems to be inclined rather than swimming horizontally.

We make be able to make some more calulations. 80 ~ 100 people on the left bank - say 100. Each adult across the shoulders is about 24 inches or 2 feet so assume the channel length is 200 feet.  

Woman swimmer inclined in the water say 5 feet.

Width of channel say - 25 feet.

Length x Breadth x Depth = 200 x 25 x 5 = 25,000 cubic feet.

Modfiy this to allow for the person taking the photograph and guessing he or she is on dry land, then 250 x 15 x 5 = 31,250 cubic feet.

An Olympic size swimming pool is around 88,000 cubic feet.

Roughly speaking the 'channel' is about a third of the size of an Olympic swimming pool.

The channel water also has some 'chop' on it which may indicate exposure to prevailing wind from the photograpers direction or thereabouts.

Could the stone protusions on the right hand side therefore be outlets to pumping and irrigation equpment?

Judging by the number of children present on either bank, with one or two appearing to be in a swimming costume with a towel around their shoulders, I would guess that this was perhaps a school swimming gala with Mum's and Dad's present for obvious reasons.

There are no apparent sun shadows so the day may be overcast.

There are no dinghies or small boats in evidence nor rings and brackets for tying them up.

The only problem now - where is it?

That's enough CID work for today.





were they common wear for people in HK at the time? Everyone seems to have one giving the impression of a wholly more tropical location.

Is that hill-terracing in the background?

I had noticed in a previous photograph submitted a Dalat milestone marker. Would this be Dalat, Vietnam? There is a lake with waterfalls etc and was a favourite spot for colonials.

The swimming race is well attended with a camera tripod at the finishing line. Appears to be a race of significance. 

May want to check out the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. 

Tend to think that the photo may not be of Hong Kong.



I managed to upload a 3.3 meg photo ( the limit seems to be about 4 megs ) I see that at the far end where the waterfalls are located, the canal takes and angled jog to the left. There are people standing on the shore back there and you can see the turn. I've seen a shot on here showing a similar type of canal and I thought it was something to do with Tai Tam.

As for the thatched structure on the right, I have several photos of similar thatched buildings that may have been taken on the same occasion or very close to it,; possibly over some Holiday weekend or at a sports meet of some type. In one photo my family is posed seated in front of one of these huts and they have tennis rackets. There is another view showing others, playing either tennis or maybe badminton. I will see if I can add this shot to this post.



I came across a picture of a site called "Bowrington Canal" that was apparently buried and surfaced over between 1922 and 1929. The timing could coincide with this "swimming canal" location as it would have existed at the time that this shot was taken. The mountains in the background are also similar to a second view of the Bowrington Canal area. Both of these appear to be water-colored photo cards.I haven't found much about it so far other than what's already of Gwulo and these cards.



Hi Brian,

No, definitely not the Bowrington Canal. Here are some photos of it:


There isn't any part of it that runs into a gentle waterfall like your photo does.

I think Moddsey might be onto something with the Cameron Highlands. Here's a photo of a hill there with a similar stepped top:


Regards, David

What I was looking at was the hill behind in the third photo....the one from 1925, with the trams going across. That view seems to be looking in the opposite direction from the others. I noticed the hillside had similar clear spots and even today looking at the hill on Google Earth, there seems to be similarities in the shape and also the clear spots. Those are the same three shots that I saw too....and I haven't found any others so far. I wish I could find more photos in my collection. I know my grandfather had interests in Malaya later on and that is a possibility, but from what I can gather, the period of that photo of the swimmers would have been during the time in Hong Kong or nearby. I doubt that they had the resources to travel far away as he would likely have had to work 5 or 6 days each week at Jardines but I am still digging! Thanks again, David....I really enjoy all your posts and your wonderfully insightful detective work.

Here's an aerial view of the canal in the 1930s:

1931 Aerial view of Happy Valley & Bowrington

It's definitely not the one in your photo, but I'm sorry I can't pin down where yours was taken.

Regards, David

David and all,

    I'm pretty sure that I finally have my answer as to where this photo was taken! Thanks to all who posted suggestions and offered advice. Many of you were correct in the fact that is indeed NOT Hong Kong, but rather, Kuling, Jiangxi, near Lushan. My family moved rom Hong Kong to Shanghai sometime around 1917-1919 and I couldn't tell from ages of my mother and her sister in the photo as they were very young and exact ages would be impossible to determine from the picture. 

I located a batch of photos, actually a "collection of collections" totalling somwewhere around 9000 images. I think I must have looked at close to 3000 before coming across what I thought was a match. I subsequently found several more photos and after corresponding with the curator of the collection, he also confirmed my guess as being correct....at least I would say 99% sure!

I would still love to know what the actual occasion was. It must have had some significance as there were several large cameras mounted on tripods filming the event. Everyone semed to be decked out in their finery. I've looked for swim meets and races in the early1900s but so far haven't found any clues....so that part of the mystery remains

Many thans to David for hosting this site and all the photos as well as the help in solving so many of these dilemas. I'm an avid follower of all things Gwulo. I've still not been to the Orient, the only person in my family other than my children, who has not. It is high on my list, with Hong Kong and Shanghai both in the plan.

Many thanks again

Brian Beesley

Hi Brian,

Thanks very much for the update, and glad to hear that at least part of the mystery has been solved. I'll be interested to hear if you discover what was happening that day. (It's often the way that solving one uncovers two more!)

Regards, David