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London cancels Canada Day

London's Trafalgar Square and New York's Central Park won't show any Canadian love on Canada Day this year — no real-life Mounties, no street hockey games, no performances by Canadian musicians.

A lack of sponsorships has prompted organizers to cancel the annual celebrations just five years after Canada Day International — previously run by the government — was transferred to Rainmaker GBD, a Calgary business consulting firm.

"It's disappointing that we can't continue," said Chad Molleken of Regina, who first organized Canada Day in London for Rainmaker in 2009.

Molleken, who's no longer with the company, said the free events have attracted more than 600,000 people to date. They were so popular, he said, that they expanded to include New York City last year and were planned to reach Hong Kong this year.

But those plans were put on hold when two major sponsors — telecommunications giant BlackBerry (TSX:BB) and Nexen, an Alberta oil and gas company — said they would not contribute to the program this year.

Molleken's efforts to find new sponsors to fill the void were unsuccessful.

According to the Canadian Tourism Commission, Canada Day International was launched by the Canadian business community in London in 2005 before the federal agency "stepped in."

Though it eventually passed operations to Rainmaker, the commission remained involved and provided about $33,000 yearly.

The agency was among more than 25 sponsors this year, about 75 per cent of whom were still on board. But Molleken said the party cannot proceed without BlackBerry and Nexen, whose contributions comprise about one-third of last year's $1 million budget.

BlackBerry spokesman Adam Emery confirmed the firm did not renew its funding for celebrations in London this year. A spokeswoman for Nexen said the company redirected funding to initiatives that "more directly benefit the community," many of which are charities.

Lois Mitchell, chair of Canada Day International, said lack of sponsorships was not the only reason the events were cancelled this year. She said higher insurance costs and the loss of use of part of the Canadian High Commission, which is currently under renovation, also contributed to the decision, which has angered many Canadian expats.

Canada Day International's Facebook page for London has seen hundreds of comments on the cancellation.

"Last year, July 1, I had one of the most powerful moments of my time here in the U.K.," Brades Thompson posted. "I was so disheartened when I heard that there will be nothing official going on this year."

"NOOOO!!! Please do no do this, this brought me home when I'm not at home! This sucks!" Aqsa Saleem posted.

But some have also posted invitations to their own celebrations.

Mark Sultana, originally from Burlington, Ont., said he was organizing an event called Pop Up Canada Day at a bar in Trafalgar Square. The only act will be a one-man band — not nearly as attractive as the cancelled events, but he promises Canadian beer, Caesars and poutine.

"We were all wondering what to do when it was cancelled," Sultana said. "I wanted to find a venue that was as close to Trafalgar Square as possible so that we can at least have the spirit."

The Canadian Press

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