The Canadian National Exhibition has returned to Toronto after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 18-day event kicked off with an opening ceremony Friday morning.

Speaking at the ceremony, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he hoped residents would welcome the fair back with "huge enthusiasm."

"If you think about it, there are very few things in our city that embody the traditions and the city itself the way the CNE does," he said.

Health measures that restricted in-person events prevented the fair from operating in 2020 and 2021. The organization that runs the fair has said the cancellations cost millions in losses and missed revenue.

Darrell Brown, CEO of the Canadian National Exhibition Association, said earlier this week there's a lot riding on this year's event.

"For some of these vendors, the CNE is the big paycheque of the year. It was a struggle for some of them to make it through (the pandemic), but the vast majority are back and they're anxiously awaiting the gates opening," he said.

Mac-and-cheese lemonade and ketchup ice cream were among the new wacky foods fairgoers can feast on, along with the typical fair foods like hotdogs and poutine, and long-standing CNE favourites such as waffle ice cream sandwiches and mini doughnuts.

A nightly drone show has been touted as another of the fair's new attractions.

The CNE's return came amid a strike by unionized safety inspectors working for the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, who have raised concerns about how rides are being examined during the labour action.

The CNE previously said it has taken steps to ensure the strike doesn't affect the safety of visitors, staff or vendors, and has its own engineering team to carry out inspections on top of those performed by the TSSA's non-union staff and management.

Striking workers held a rally during the opening ceremony Friday, shouting slogans as organizers and officials took to the stage.

The fair runs from Aug. 19 to Sept. 5.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2022.