Union Construction Co/Union Contractors (華聯建築)
York Lo: Union Construction Co/Union Contractors (華聯建築)
Left: Union Contractors founder Kew Chan (Geni); Right: Ad of Union Construction Co in 1950 (HKBCA Yearbook)
Earlier in the group, I wrote a series of articles on Shanghainese builders and in Part 7 of the series, the firm Union Contractors was misclassified as a Shanghainese builder as its proprietor Chan Bing-quan(陳炳鈞, 1924-1988) was born in Shanghai. As it turned out, his family is of Cantonese Hakka descent and his father Kew Chan (陳大球, 1882-1968, aka Chan Tai-kau), the founder of Union, was a co-founder of the Wai Yeung Merchants Association (僑港惠陽商會), an affinity group for Hakka immigrants from the Huiyang prefecture in Guangdong founded in the 1930s with hotelier Hui Yeung-shing (許讓成) of Park Hotel and fellow construction magnate Chung Yuk-hing (鍾玉興).
Although Union Contractors as a firm was not incorporated until 1964, the firm was founded as “Union Construction Co” in HK before the War. By the 1930s, it was a major contractor for public works andin 1939 for example, it was listed as winner of government’s tender for maintenance of nullahs and construction of additional sewers, maintenance and repairs of roads and repairs of nullah bridges at Kai Tak. As a successful contractor, Kew Chan was elected a director of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals in 1932-33, alongside Haking Wong (best known for Halina cameras after the War), Sum Heung-lam of Blood Protection Co (see article) and Chan Lan-fong, the king of firecrackers. PLA general (who had also served as Guangzhou mayor and Minister of Communications) and fellow Huiyang native Zeng Sheng (曾生, 1910-1995) had known Kew Chan since the 1930s through the Wai Yeung Merchants Association and in his memoir which was published in 1992, he acknowledged that Chan was in close contacts with his East River Column group of resistance fighters against the Japanese occupiers in Hong Kong and surrounding areas during the War. In 1948, Union’s addresses were listed as 314 Portland Street in Mongkok and 18 Wai Ching Street in Yau Ma Tei. Hunghom reclamation work
According to a family tree uploaded to Geni, Kew Chan had at least four wives and 14 children.By the 1950s, he had handed the management of Union to Chan Bing-quan (aka Paul).Chan Bing-quan was born in Shanghai in 1924 and attended Pui Ching Middle School and St Joseph’s College in HK. He lived in 341 Braga Circuit in Kowloon and served as a director of HKBuilding Contractors Association during the 1960s.
Left: Chan Bing-Quan as HKBCA director; Right: Chan Bing-quan (third from right) in 1961 after he returned from Japan in a banquet hosted by Wong Wah-sang (王華生,third from left) of Chung Wah Shipbuilding. Yue Yun-hing (余潤興,first from right) of Wo Hing Construction and later chairman of the HK Table Tennis Association and South China Athletic Association was also present(香港工商日報, 1961-03-29 )
According to the billionaire Lui Che-Woo of the K. Wah Group, Union Contractors was a major contractor in the 1960s under the leadership of the second generation and it was thanks to the guarantee provided by Chan Bing-Quan to the US consulate that Lui was able to procure military surplus from the US Army in Okinawa for resale. Like Lui, Union Contractors was also in the quarry business with its quarry located at Tai Wan Shan (大環山) in Hunghom where it was engaging in reclamation work for the government and right next to the Green Island Cement factory. In December 1960, an accidental explosion of explosives killed 2 workers and injured one at the Tai Wan Shan site.
Aside from Lui, Chan was also a business partner of Wong Wah-Sang of Chung Wah Shipbuilding, who supplied him with electric welding equipment. Union also did business in Borneo in conjunction with Dao Kee (see Shanghainese Builders Part 1 – Pre-War Pioneers for details on Dao Kee). In the 1980s, Chan Bing-quan migrated to Canada where he died in Burnaby in 1988.
HK Album, 1967
Telephone Directory of Hong Kong and Kowloon, 1948
華僑日報, 1961-03-28, 1964-3-18, 1960-12-16
曾生回忆录, 解放军出版社, 1992
This article was first posted on 18th January 2019.
Related Indhhk articles:
- Shanghainese Builders in HK (Part Seven) – John Lok, Yao Kee, Paul Lee, TK Shen, Wide Project and Wai Kee
- Blood Protection Co (保血有限公司) and Fish brand mosquito incense
- Green Island Cement Company – stunning photos
- The Hongkong Engineering & Construction Company Ltd 1922-1993
- The Oriental Construction Company – 1905 advert