The Mulholland family were natives of County Down, Ireland. William R. Mulholland came to Nova Scotia in 1849 as “Second Master” under his older brother Rev. John Geison Mulholland, principal of Kings Collegiate School in Windsor. The following year, W. R. was appointed mathematics teacher at Pictou Academy and chaired Nova Scotia’s first “teachers’ institute” held at Pictou, 20 December 1850. In 1855, Mulholland joined the faculty of the Provincial Normal School. His lectures dealt with a spectrum of mathematical topics ranging from elementary arithmetic through traditional algebra and geometry to practical mathematics, especially surveying and bookkeeping. In addition, he taught physical science, use of globes, and technical drawing.
When planning a Model School to serve as an adjunct to the Normal School, educational authorities asked Mulholland to design the building and oversee construction. As the Normal School became well-known around Nova Scotia, Mulholland attracted paying students anxious to specialize in bookkeeping, surveying or navigation.
The School Act of 1864 brought new architectural opportunities for Mulholland. Demand for teachers increased attendance at the Normal School and Mulholland was asked to draw up plans and supervise construction of an extension. He was also requested to provide school-house plans for distribution to local trustees and commissioners. These plans, contained in “one of the first architectural pattern books to be published in Canada,” became his legacy to Nova Scotia. For the next one hundred years, the Province’s rural areas were served by school houses built to Mulholland’s plans.
At forty-six years of age, he remarried and started a second family. Professionally, he maintained a meteorological station in Truro, supervised several editions of his Nova Scotia Arithmetic, published The Arithmetical Table Book, for the use of Schools and Counting Houses, and began accepting architectural commissions. Truro was experiencing a mini-building boom and Mulholland advertised that he would provide plans for private residences, although no examples are known to have survived. In contrast, his adaptation of plans for St. John’s Anglican Church and his very attractive design for the YMCA building in Truro brought him public acclaim. The last official recognition of his building experience was his appointment as Government Inspector of the construction of the elaborate new Normal School, built in 1878.
Three years later, during a hiatus in Truro’s residential construction, Mulholland removed to Kansas City, Missouri, where he was employed in an architect’s firm. He died in Omaha, Nebraska, and his body was brought back to Truro to be buried with his family in St. John’s Anglican Church Cemetery.
This abbreviated biography from,
The Provincial Normal School, Truro, Nova Scotia, A Biographical Record 1855 – 1869
by Carol Campbell and James F. Smith, 2018. ISBN 978-0-9739436-7-2