ST. ANDREW’S ON THE SQUARE at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Seymour Street is such an iconic building in Kamloops that we could easily forget that its fate could have been so much different had it not been for a small group of people who worked to preserve and restore it.
History is often seen as a series of dates and old buildings, but it is individuals that make things happen. This has been the case with the preservation of St. Andrews on the Square.
There have been many people involved, but one individual, Melody (Mel) Formanski, has been key to ensuring this building was restored and maintained.
Built in 1887, St. Andrew’s on the Square is Kamloops’ oldest public building. It was built originally as a Presbyterian church for the growing settler town. From then until the mid-1980s, it was used first as the Presbyterian church, then briefly as the meeting hall of St. Andrew’s and Caledonian Society from 1936 to 1942. Then from 1942 until 1990, it was again a church: the Calvary Temple under the leadership of Reverend Phil A. Gaglardi.
In 1990, the Calvary Temple moved to Aberdeen, and St. Andrew’s building and property were sold to the City of Kamloops for $300,000. From then until 1995, it largely sat empty and boarded up. The City declared it a heritage building but dedicated no funds for its restoration or preservation.
In 1995, a small group of people, including Melody Formanski, Kate Lawrie, Kathy McGregor, Sharon Morrison, Kent Wong, Bonnie Franklin, and Ann McCarthy and others formed the Kamloops Heritage Society with the goal of restoring the building.
Not everyone was in favor of the restorations. In 1997, the City council of the day considered tearing it down. But the heritage society garnered sufficient community support including funds and volunteer labor, and they were given permission by the City to undertake the restoration.
In 1998, with restorations complete, St. Andrew’s on the Square was reopened to the public as the gem it is today. From then until now, the Kamloops Heritage Society has managed the building.
Over the years, people have come and gone from the Kamloops Heritage Society, but the one constant has been Formanski. From her original role as visionary and volunteer, she took on the role of manager of the site.
From early morning to late at night, Formanski was available to open up the building or lock it up. She would be there hours before events, setting up the coffee urn, putting out the bone china tea cups, and moving furniture around for the necessary events.
Since its restoration, St. Andrew’s on the Square has hosted hundreds, if not thousands of community events. Music concerts, weddings, yoga classes and craft fairs are just some of the events hosted in the building. All of them required someone to be there to let the people in, to turn on the lights, and to clean up afterwards. That someone was invariably Formanski.
Formanski also worked with others to add the stained glass windows, which make the space so beautiful, contract out roofers, and on her own, do all of the ongoing maintenance such as inside painting and small repairs. She hung the wedding pictures of those who wed at St. Andrew’s in the back hallway as mementos.
Formanski is retiring. Her labor of love has benefited all of us who’ve gone to events at St. Andrew’s on the Square.
The Kamloops Heritage Society, which has managed the building since its restoration and reopening in 1998, no longer has the financial means or capacity to run the building. The City of Kamloops, which owns the building, will take over its day-to-day management.
St. Andrew’s on the Square is important to the heritage of Kamloops only because there were people willing to fight for its preservation. Chief among them was Formanski, who has been a driving force for restoring, maintaining, and running St. Andrew’s on the Square for the last 26 years.
Thank you, Mel, for your great work. May history remember you well.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.