The Manitoba Chapter’s gavel and its enduring meaning

The American College of Surgeons (ACS) granted its charter to the Manitoba Chapter in 1956.1 Like many organizations, a gavel had been used historically in our chapter meetings.2 However, over the years, the gavel was no longer used in meetings and was actually misplaced during multiple transitions of the Executive Committee. It reappeared with some documents that were passed on to me as the Governor of our chapter.

Upon further examination of the gavel, the written inscription was, to say the least, intriguing. It reads, “Manitoba Chapter of American College of Surgeons. Wood from desk of Franklin H. Martin; From Dwight Parkinson.” (See Figures 1–3). I think someone had recounted the history of the gavel to me as a young general surgery resident, but I would not have truly appreciated the connection to the ACS’ principal founder—Dr. Martin—at the time. The history of the gavel has been nothing short of a mystery to me. No records of how or when it was acquired by Dr. Parkinson can be located, and I cannot verify the authenticity of the inscription.

Gavel for the ACS Manitoba Chapter

Dr. Parkinson (MD, FACS)  (1916–2005) was a prominent neurosurgeon in Manitoba and a pioneer in neurosurgery at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg.3 He served as President (1962) and Governor (1977) of our chapter. Exactly when the gavel was introduced is unclear. However, Nathan Wiseman, MD, FACS, a Past-ACS Governor from Manitoba, said he did not know how Dr. Parkinson came upon the gavel but understood that it was a tradition for chapters to be given a gavel when they received their charter.

Despite my amateur sleuthing attempts, I could not verify this comment, and the ACS Archives have no record of this tradition, so the origins of the gavel remain a mystery. Even if its origins cannot be verified, the inscription made me pause and think about the possible relationship with the College’s principal founder. Dr. Wiseman had a copy of Dr. Martin’s autobiography, and the historical and personal context makes for very interesting reading.4

Clearly, for Dr. Martin, the main reason for starting the College was the pursuit of optimal outcomes in the care of surgical patients and remains the objective of the College today. Investigating the gavel’s history has reminded me of the College’s origins and why the ACS continues today as the leading organization in surgery dedicated to improving the care of surgical patients through education and standards.

Perhaps it is not so much about the details of the gavel’s origin but what it can symbolize for our members. It really serves as a reminder that we must own responsibility for quality in surgical care, just as Dr. Martin did when he sought to found the College. This principle of providing quality care continues to be relevant now. It remains our collective duty as surgeons to impart that responsibility in our education of our residents and colleagues.


  1. Original communication memorandum from Associate Director Dr. H.P Saunders, FACS, to Manitoba Fellows. May 22, 1956.
  2. Parker J. “Gavel” in International Law’s Objects. Oxford University Press. 2018.
  3. Ajisebutu A, Del Bigio MR, Kazina CJ, West M, Serletis D. Dr. Dwight Parkinson: A Canadian neurosurgical pioneer. J Neurosurg. September 27, 2010 [online only].
  4. Martin FH. The Joy of Living: An Autobiography, vols. 1–2. New York, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co; 1983.

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