Earthquakes Canada said the 5.5 magnitude quake hit at about 6:20 a.m. local time about 25 kilometres west of Nootka Island, off the north coast of Vancouver Island.
There were no reports of any damage or injuries, and no tsunami was expected.
"It woke up many people in communities on northern Vancouver Island," said John Cassidy, an earthquake seismologist with Natural Resources Canada.
"Because the earthquake was far enough away it wasn't strong enough to knock items off shelves or cause any damage but people certainly noticed five to 10 seconds of shaking where things were swaying back and forth."
Vancouver Island communities that felt the quake included Port Alice, Port McNeill, Port Hardy, Tahsis, Sointula and Alert Bay. Residents living in small communities on Nootka Island felt the quake as well.
The quake was caused by ocean plates rubbing together in a region known as the Nootka fault zone, said Cassidy.
"This is one of the seismic hotspots along the west coast," he said.
"We tend to get a band of seismicity along the region where those two ocean plates meet, and that's where today's earthquake occurred, it's a boundary between those two ocean plates."
Although the early-morning quake didn't cause any damage or injuries, it was a reminder of seismic activity in the area, said Cassidy.
"We live in a very active region. This is a direct result of plate movement," he said. "We know that energy is being stored for much larger earthquakes in the future...being prepared, knowing what to do, is really important."
Earthquakes Canada said small aftershocks from the quake could be felt through Sunday.
During an earthquake, those inside a home or building are advised to drop down and crawl under strong furniture, cover their head and neck and stay away from windows and shelves with heavy objects.
If unable to go under something strong, crouching or flattening oneself against an interior wall is advised.
Those outdoors during an earthquake are advised to stay away from power lines, buildings and the shore. Those in vehicles are advised to pull over and stay inside.
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