Born in Dundurn, Saskatchewan on September 10, 1910, Thode studied at the University of Saskatchewan for his BSc and received his PhD in Physics from the University of Chicago in 1934. He joined the faculty at McMaster University, where during his term as vice-president (1957-61) he built Canada's first research nuclear reactor. He served as president of the university from 1961 to 1972. The building of the reactor at McMaster gave an impetus to the development of research and graduate student training, not only at that university but throughout the Canadian university system. As a scientist Thode worked on the structure and isotopic abundance in terrestrial and meteoric materials. Following the lunar landings, he obtained rocks from the moon and studied their composition and theorized on the age and composition of the moon.
He served as president of the Royal Society of Canada, was a member of the Royal Society of London, and was the first scientist to be made a Companion of the Order of Canada. Thode died on March 22, 1997.