Erwin Dain (Spike) Canham, 77, editor emeritus of the Christian Science Monitor who had been resident commissioner of the Northern Marianias from 1976 to 1978, and had been active in professional and civic organizations, died Sunday in Guam Memorial Hospital.

The cause of death was not disclosed, but the Associated Press reported that Mr. Canham underwent surgery for an unspecified abdominal problem at the hospital two weeks ago.

Mr. Canham was the last resident commissioner of the Northern Marianias, which included the bloody World War II battlefield of Saipan, and helped guide the western Pacific islands to U.S. commonwealth status. He continued to live there following the election of the islands' first governor. In addition to his home in Saipan, Mr. Canham also maintained a residence in Cape Cod, Mass.

His career with the Monitor spanned 50 years before he retired as its editor-in-chief in 1974 and was named editor emeritus. He was president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1948 and 1949 and had been president and board chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

During the late 1940s, he was an alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. During the Eisenhower administration, he chaired the National Manpower Commission and served on the advisory commission on information of the U.S. Information Agency.

Mr. Canham also was active in civic activities in Boston--ranging from the presidency of the board of trustees of the Boston Public Library to mediation of a cell block takeover at Boston's old Charlestown Prison.

Of course, it was as a reporter and then editor of the Monitor that he made his mark. Founded in 1908 by the Christian Science Church, the paper once editorialized that its goal was to see that "whatever is of public importance or affects the public welfare, even though it be news of what is ordinarily reckoned crime or disaster, is printed in the Monitor in completeness sufficient for information but without unnecessary embellishment or sensational display."

Mr. Canham was the paper's managing editor from 1941 to 1944, its editor from 1945 until becoming editor-in-chief in 1964. During those years the Monitor was considered by most media critics as one of the most respected and influential publications in the country. It was especially lauded for its national and international reporting as well as for its writing style and typographical excellence.

Mr. Canham was born in Auburn, Me., and was a 1925 graduate of Bates College, where he was captain of the debating team and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

He joined the staff of the Monitor in 1925, then spent three years at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees. During the summer months he covered the League of Nations in Switzerland for the paper. In 1932, he began a seven year stint as head of the paper's Washington bureau, then returned to Boston as general news editor in 1939. He became managing editor two years later.

Roscoe Drummond, then a colleague at the Monitor, gave Mr. Canham his nickname. "Erwin was such a scholary type," Drummond said, "that I thought he needed a nickname. So I gave him the most incongruous one Spike I could think of."

Mr. Canham is survived by his wife, the former Patience M. Daltry, of Saipan and Boston.