The need to improve access to palliative care across many settings of care for patients with cancer and non-cancer illnesses is recognised. This requires primary-level palliative care capacity, but many healthcare professionals lack core competencies in this area. Pallium Canada, a non-profit organisation, has been building primary-level palliative care at a national level since 2000, largely through its Learning Essential Approaches to Palliative Care (LEAP) education programme and its compassionate communities efforts. From 2015 to 2019, 1603 LEAP course sessions were delivered across Canada, reaching 28 123 learners from different professions, including nurses, physicians, social workers and pharmacists. This paper describes the factors that have accelerated and impeded spread and scale-up of these programmes. The need for partnerships with local, provincial and federal governments and organisations is highlighted. A social enterprise model, that involves diversifying sources of revenue to augment government funding, enhances long-term sustainability. Barriers have included Canada’s geopolitical realities, including large geographical area and thirteen different healthcare systems. Some of the lessons learned and strategies that have evolved are potentially transferrable to other jurisdictions.