The Lac des Iles palladium mine in northwestern Ontario opened its first underground shaft Tuesday, a move that is expected to cut costs and improve efficiency.

CBC's Jeff Walters was the only journalist who took the trip hundreds of metres underground for the official opening.

The CEO of North American Palladium, Phil du Toit, says the new infrastructure allows ore to be hauled to the surface without using large trucks and multiple drivers, cutting labour and fuel costs.

He also says the shaft is crucial to keeping the mine, located 90 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, producing ore into the future.

"Now that underground just got deeper and deeper,” du Toit said. “And there's some point where to be able to mine efficiently, cost [effectively] and to get volumes, you need a shaft.”

Stability for workers

The mine, which started production in 1993 as an open pit, then expanded underground, had previously relied on ramps to transport material to the surface.   

Herb Daniher, spokesperson for the Steelworkers Union representing about 300 employees at the site, says the underground shaft brings stability for workers.

“So certainly, they have enough defined resources to go until 2019, but … there's potential here to continue to operate this, if all the stars align for an extended period, well beyond that,” Daniher said.

Du Toit says with the new shaft operating, the company can eventually look at expanding horizontally from the main ore body.

The leadership of nearby Gull Bay First Nation has said there is potential from the mine for jobs and business opportunities for the community.