If you wander to the edge of Olympic Village, a small path stretches into False Creek leading to a miniature island crowned with boulders, logs, trees and flowers.
Welcome to Habitat Island, an urban sanctuary the Vancouver park board hopes will attract wildlife and vegetation. But in the wake of popularity due to the seclusion and creek’s scenery, the island has been attracting something else: drinking and smoking.
Under a warm sunset on the island last week, a jam session with three guitars and a ukulele played “Folsom Prison Blues.” A large group of friends enjoyed cold beers, smoked joints and listened to music on a portable stereo. A well-dressed couple had dinner out of a picnic basket and sipped wine from glasses.
“There have been individuals from all walks of life,” said Vancouver Police spokesperson Const. Brian Montague.
The park board works with the VPD to keep the island clean and safe. Summer months have seen more island frequenters.
Park board vice chair Constance Barnes is not surprised as public drinking and smoking are common issues city parks and beaches face.
“I know the young ones want to party and go out there,” said Barnes, “but if you see a few couples sitting there quietly contemplating life or looking at the wildlife and the little critters, I would ask graciously that we all support each other.”
May Bosaing, 23, often hangs out on the island with friends and has ideas why it’s attracting this sort of activity.
“It’s accessible, close to the liquor store and transit and has an awesome view,” said Bosaing. “It is somewhat secluded. Unless you’re really compelled to go to the island you never see what activities are going on there.”
Island frequenters like Bosaing have another name for the hidden hangout spot: Beer Island. Nearby Legacy Liquor Store has many beverages in its fridges and there are three microbreweries in the neighbourhood.
According to Montague, when police encounter individuals who are engaged in public drinking or disturbing the peace they are usually evaluated on a case by case basis. “Some individuals are apologetic and cooperative, some are belligerent,” he said.
Officers’ responses range from asking individuals to pour out liquor to issuing tickets. “I can tell you if you’re caught drinking in public, it’s a potential $230 fine,” said Montague.
Bosaing said individuals who cause a disruption are asking for trouble, but some people just want to have a casual beer. “Vancouverites in general are responsible. The intention is not to get hammered.”
Barnes hopes visitors will not leave trash behind. She recalled crabs, starfish and sand dollars back in her day. “We want to restore what used to be. Honour the land as it used to be.”
Besides park board staff, there is an amiable relationship that helps keep the island clean. Seniors with large bags and trolleys often visit the island to collect recyclables. Individuals who drink often hand them their empty cans and bottles.
“It’s a curiosity,” photographer Jeremy Lim said of the island.
The spot has many attractions that do not involve downing a cold one. “It’s this beautiful place to watch sunsets and watch dragon boaters go by and it’s really great running along the sea wall,” said Lim. “It almost feels like people can get away from the city.”