If you haven't a yen to feel older than the slabs at Stonehenge, don't do what I did last week: attend a rock music and film conference where the median age was around, say, 17.

If you haven't a yen to feel older than the slabs at Stonehenge, don't do what I did last week: attend a rock music and film conference where the median age was around, say, 17.

I was in Toronto at the North by Northeast Music and Film Festival, helping my friends Pat and Emily promote their work-in-progress documentary about the New York punk scene in the '70s. We stood out amongst the younger folk like freeze-dried produce in a freshly picked fruit cup.

It was suggested we looked more like parents searching the event for their runaway child than actual participants, but we held our graying heads high amid stares of strained incredulity. The stares were polite. This was, after all, Canada.

The festival itself was anything but polite, a somewhat disorganized explosion of musical energy and creativity, with performances day and night in some 40 clubs and other venues -- more than 450 bands with names like Ceremonial Snips, Les Breastfeeders, Wordburglar, Horton the Irrelevant & August the Creep.

The visit conjured memories of when I first visited Toronto with my family, back in the '60s. We drove from Canandaigua up around the perimeter of Lake Ontario to attend the Canadian National Exhibition. For a couple of days we wandered its acres of midways and huge exhibitions in vast Victorian halls, now historic landmarks.

Instead of rock 'n' roll, we heard the theatrical song stylings of Canada's own Robert Goulet, improbably handsome then, fresh from his Broadway debut in "Camelot."We saw the Royal Canadian Mounted Police perform their famous Musical Ride -- 32 horses and riders moving with the finesse and grace of Vienna's Lipizzaner stallions. (These equestrian Mounties are still around, touring Saskatchewan this week, in fact. I'm especially partial to their youth education program called -- and I am not making this up -- "Say 'Neigh' to Drugs.")

Back then, Toronto seemed a somewhat gray place, veddy British, even stodgy. Now it's a cosmopolitan and multicultural metropolis of great museums and parks, stores and restaurants; testimony, in part, to the ethnic diversity that has graced this town -- and nation -- over the last several decades. (The city's beauty and spirit make the failure of the Rochester-Toronto ferry all the sadder!)

A few years ago, Bill Clinton remarked, "In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity and mutual respect."

But now, like us, Canada is grappling with immigration reform, although apparently with more rationality and level discourse than the hysteria that reigns stateside. In part, it's a question of size: Canada has a tenth of our population living in a space a bit larger than our own. Still, immigrants make up 20 percent of its population (in the United States, it's 12 percent), and Statistics Canada, that nation's census bureau, estimates that by around 2030, Canadian population growth will be based entirely on new immigration.

In a Canadian newspaper Monday, Pamela Wallin, a former journalist who recently served as Canada's consul general here in New York City, wrote, "Canadians pride themselves on their tolerance of difference and their willing embrace of diversity. But we already are a magnet for the world's economic refugees, and we want to get out ahead of the potential costs and resentments America is now confronting."

Last week, while Republican candidates for the White House beat up on President Bush and their fellow aspirant John McCain for favoring reasoned immigration reform -- and as a delicate compromise foundered on the reef of the United States Senate -- Canada's Parliament passed a motion, 147-115, that offers, in the words of immigrant rights advocates, "a forthright recognition that Canada's immigration system is unsustainable and that many sectors in the economy would suffer without the contributions of today's undocumented migrants. ...

"Those who are good enough to build our economy are also good enough to build our families, communities and our country in the future."

Don't get me wrong. It's an uphill battle up North, too, with concerted conservative opposition not unlike ours. Nonetheless, compared to the cant and pandering on the immigration issue that poisons the American political scene, take it from a middle-aged fogey: Canada rocks.

Michael Winship, a native of Canandaigua, is a freelance television writer in Manhattan.