BACKGROUND: Canada’s contributions toward the 21st century’s practice of thoracic surgery have been both unique and multilayered. Scattered throughout are tales of pioneers where none had gone before, where opportunities were greeted by creativity and where iconic figures followed one another.OBJECTIVE: To describe the numerous and important achievements of Canadian thoracic surgeons in the areas of surgery for pulmonary tuberculosis, thoracic oncology, airway surgery and lung transplantation.METHOD: Information was collected through reading of the numerous publications written by Canadian thoracic surgeons over the past 100 years, interviews with interested people from all thoracic surgery divisions across Canada and review of pertinent material form the archives of several Canadian hospitals and universities.RESULTS: Many of the developments occurred by chance. It was the early and specific focus on thoracic surgery, to the exclusion of cardiac and general surgery, that distinguishes the Canadian experience, a model that is now emerging everywhere. From lung transplantation in chimera twin calves to ex vivo organ preservation, from the removal of airways to tissue regeneration, and from intensive care research to complex science, Canadians have excelled in their commitment to research. Over the years, the influence of Canadian thoracic surgery on international practice has been significant.CONCLUSIONS: Canada spearheaded the development of thoracic surgery over the past 100 years to a greater degree than any other country. From research to education, from national infrastructures to the regionalization of local practices, it happened in Canada.