William Edwin Atkinson was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1862. He studied at the Ontario School of Art from 1880–1883 with John Arthur Fraser and Robert Harris. Following his studies he travelled to Philadelphia, where he took courses with Thomas Eakins, and then to Paris where he took courses at the Julian Academy with Bouguereau and Ferrier, as well as at the Delance Academy.
He was a member of the Ontario Society of Artists from 1892 to 1907, and then of the Canadian Art Club from 1907 to 1915. He was also a member of The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
His work is in the academic tradition many artists of his time embraced. After initially being influenced by European painting, his work gradually came to express the common Canadian view of the vast landscapes, cities, and countrysides.
Although he painted in Ontario in the late 19th century, in addition to Île d’Orléans and Pointe-au-Pic, Charlevoix, he spent most of his life working in his Toronto studio. He died in Toronto in 1926.