A bleak jetty covered today in a mix of ice and mud could become one of Toronto's top parks by the spring of 2020, after construction work on the Port Lands officially began on Thursday.

The work, taking place on the eastern waterfront just off Cherry Street, will take years. The plan is to fill in one channel of water and part of another, creating a nine-hectare (20 acres) park that will anchor the future neighbourhood.

All three levels of government are spending big — $1.25 billion — on the project.

"This work … is absolutely necessary before you can do anything much with the Port Lands," Mayor John Tory told reporters.

Toronto Port Lands groundbreaking

It was a different kind of groundbreaking as Mayor John Tory and politicians from all three levels of government pitched stones into a front-end loader. (John Rieti/CBC)

That's because the park will double as flood protection, guarding future housing in the area from high lake levels and storms. Waterfront Toronto president and CEO Will Fleissig says the plan is to build the park about two to three metres higher than it is right now.

Once finished, the park will have an unobstructed view of the city skyline — one similar to a spot that's already a favourite among photographers — and anchor a brand new neighbourhood.

"This is the future of Toronto," Fleissig said.

The money, announced last summer, will also toward rehabilitating the mouth of the Don River.

Cherry Beach will remain open during the park's construction, which is expected to take just over two years. Fleissig says Thursday's groundbreaking kicks off between six and seven years of construction work.

Toronto Keating Channel

The Keating Channel, through which the Don River empties into the lake, will also see some changes as part of the Port Lands plans. (John Rieti/CBC)