William Goodwin was born in Baie Verte, New Brunswick in 1856. He attended the University of Edinburgh on a scholarship and obtained an MSc. His first-rate work earned him more scholarships, which allowed him to study at the University of London and in Heidelberg, Germany with the famous chemist Robert Wilhelm Bunsen.
After a time at Mount Allison University, he came to Queen's in 1883 as a professor of chemistry.
William Goodwin was the first Director of the School of Mining and Agriculture (see Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science) when it opened in 1893.
Always a practical man, Professor Goodwin was a strong believer in the importance of mining in education and for a time he travelled Ontario giving instruction in geology to prospectors and miners. This was a task he resumed after his retirement from Queen's and his expertise is recorded in his Prospectors' Handbook.
In addition to his more formal achievements, Professor Goodwin has the added distinction of having brought electricity to Kingston for the first time. To do this, he installed a generator in Carruthers Hall and made the temperamental thing work against all odds.
When Nathan F. Dupuis retired in 1911, Professor Goodwin succeeded him as Dean of the Faculty of Practical Science. When the school and the faculty united in 1916 to become the Faculty of Applied Science, Professor Goodwin was made the first Dean.
Goodwin retired from Queen's in 1919 after 36 years of service. Goodwin Hall is named in his honour.
He is buried in the Cataraqui Cemetery.