Ralph Carl Ham was born 27 February 1902. Ham attended Mulvey and Kelvin schools in Winnipeg, and then pursued a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Manitoba, graduating in 1928. Near the time of his graduation, Ham worked at the firm of Northwood & Chivers (in 1928) and later at the office of Pratt & Ross (1928-29). In 1929 Ham obtained employment with the architectural firm of W.G. Van Egmond & Stan E. Storey Architects in Regina, Saskatchewan, where he worked until 1930. This was succeeded by a stint with the Saskatchewan provincial architect’s office – then run by H. Dawson, Provincial Architect – a role Ham held for one year.
In 1932, as the Great Depression slowed the rate of construction across Canada, Ham returned to Winnipeg, where he established a private practice. That year he registered with the Manitoba Association of Architects. During his brief spell as a solo pracitioner, Ham was responsible for the design of the modern-looking Salibury House restaurant on Kennedy Street (1932) and had his home plans featured in the local press. Not long after returning to Winnipeg, in 1933, Ham – with G. Leslie Russell – joined the partnership forged by Lawrence J. Green and Cecil N. Blankstein in 1932, creating the firm of Green Blankstein Russell and Ham. This office, which would become a dominant force in the city’s architectural scene, was a pioneering office in the adoption of a modernist approach to design in Western Canada. Among the firm’s first projects was a major residential scheme for social housing north-west of Winnipeg’s core, a plan spurred by the need for adequate housing and construction jobs during the economic downturn.
Among the buildings Ham helped design while at Green Blankstein Russell and Ham were the the Mall Hotel (465 Portage Avenue, 1938, demolished), the CJRC studios, the out-patient building at St. Boniface hospital, Edmonton’s Dreamland Theatre (1938), the Kinema and Tivoli theatres in Calgary, the Roxy theatre in Kimberley, British Columbia and the CKCK studios and the Rex Theatre in Regina. During the Second World War Ham served as a member of the postwar committee on housing (between January and April, 194) and was technical advisor on wartime housing to the federal Department of Finance.
Beyond his architectural practice, Ham was an active participant in a number of community activities. Among other pursuits he was president of the Winnipeg Optimist club, master of the Masonic order Beaver Lodge and was an active member of the Winnipeg Board of Trade. While at the University of Manitoba he played on the rugby team, sang in the student quartette and was advertising manager and business manager of The Manitoban student newspaper. He was also a member of the Zeta Psi fraternity, played water polo and was an active member of the Winnipeg YMCA. In 1929 Ham married Kathleen McMillan, with whom he had two sons. Ham and McMillan lived at 355 Elm Street and on Harvard Avenue. Ham did suddenly of a heart attack at his home on 26 June 1942.