William Cruikshank was born in 1848 in Broughty Ferry, Scotland. He studied art at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, and The Royal Academy in London, and Paris. His studies in Paris were interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War, and in 1871 he settled in Canada.
Cruishank opened a studio in Toronto. For twenty-five years he was an instructor in the Central Ontario School of Art, and later at the Ontario College of Art.
In 1894 he was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, he acquired a considerable reputation as a portrait and figure painter, and as a painter of Canadian scenes.
His paintings are in the National Gallery at Ottawa.
He died at Kansas City, Missouri, in 1922.