“A mickey of vodka just cost me $275.”
That’s what the tipsy visitor to “Beer Island” told me when I found him shortly after the cops did, on this tiny human-made oasis on the southeast side of False Creek.
For the past several years, “Beer Island” has been a mostly clandestine, waterfront go-to for a contraband drink (or seven). The blunt nickname stuck, and with its close proximity to one of the best liquor stores in town, its reputation grew. Now the cops are trying to put a cap on it.
Beer Island is officially known as Habitat Island, a living legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics, featuring more than 200 native trees, bushes, flowers and grasses (many of which were lilting and tinder-dry when I visited). To build it, about 60,000 cubic metres of rock, gravel, sand, soil and boulders were used.
The Feds required that some shoreline be restored when some of False Creek was filled in for the construction of Olympic Village. That’s when Mark Adams, a biologist with Envirowest, came up with the idea for an island. Margot Long, from landscape architectural firm PWL Partnership, was a key figure in its design.
“It’s not actually an island,” Long explained to me. “It was designed to be one at high tide, but city risk assessors were worried people could get trapped” (a rock bridge was built that never gets fully submerged, so it’s actually a peninsula, but for all intents and purposes, we’ll still call it an island.)
“I actually don’t have a problem with people drinking beer on the island as long as they take their garbage with them and don’t vandalize anything,” said Long.
I had hoped to have my first beer on Beer Island last week with nearby resident Bob Kronbauer, editor-in-chief of Vancouver Is Awesome. He warned me that things haven’t been very relaxed on Beer Island this summer.
Undeterred, my first stop was the nearby Legacy Liquor Store. A sign was perched beside the cash register:“Looking for BEER ISLAND? You must be thinking of Habitat Island, a city park.” The sign went on to list the fines for drinking and smoking in Vancouver parks.
A Legacy employee told me that discarded bags from their store have been found on the island. The cops have come to the store, suggesting that they discourage their customers from drinking on Beer Island, hence the sign. Apparently, an undercover cop haunts the island now, too. “They aren’t messing around!”
Still determined to experience Beer Island’s foamy rite of passage, I bought a couple of Thirsty Beaver tall-boys for Bob and me, in tribute to the local beaver who moved into the human-made shoreline wetlands a few years ago.
I was about to text Bob to meet me on Beer Island when I spotted the cops; two of them, on four-wheeled Baywatch-style ATVs. They were removing their helmets and preparing to cross the land bridge when I approached, beers hidden in my bag. I identified myself as a member of the press, and asked them a few questions. Both of them were fully aware of the island’s nickname and reputation.
“There’s been a lot of complaints from nearby residents about drinking and smoking on the island. We’re now patrolling here three times daily. There have been empties, garbage and needles left behind. We currently have a zero-tolerance policy for any alcohol, drugs, or smoking on Beer Island.”
What if it’s an older couple having a picnic with a couple of chilled glasses of Chardonnay?
“They will be fined.”
What if it’s a just a dude chilling with a joint?
“Dude will be fined.”
As if to prove their point, the cops proceeded onto the island and promptly busted the guy with the mickey, issuing him his steep ticket.
When I met the fellow a few minutes later, he seemed stunned. “That really surprised me,” he told me. “I didn’t expect such a huge fine. It’s Beer Island for chrissake! Whatever, I’m not going to fight it.”
I texted Bob and told him that he was right: the heat was on Beer Island big time. Our tall-boys could cost us $550. We postponed our plans. Wreck Beach? I’ll bring the bottle of Naked Grape.